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The villa would be a retirement home that they would leave as a legacy to their daughters Emma, 25, Kelly, 20, and Sasha, ten. Every penny Debbie invested had been squandered on luxury holidays and a lavish lifestyle by her best friend Caryn, a former bank manager, and on drugs and gambling by Caryn’s brother Matthew.

Debbie had been duped into joining a Ponzi scheme — a classic scam in which cash from later investors is used to fund monthly returns to earlier ones — by her closest confidante, a woman who had even nursed her through cancer. There is no villa, there are no savings, they have had to re-mortgage their four-bedroom house in Kent for £180,000 and are paying £1,500 a month just to clear a short-term loan of £42,000.

I know that people must think I should have heard alarm bells but there were no signs that she felt guilty. Debbie and her husband started investing slowly, with £5,000 left to her by her father.

When they saw how much profit they earned in a month — around £120 — they invested more, cashing in shares, endowment policies and savings until they had a total of £120,000 in the company.

A joint venture in Spain with her husband did not work out.

Instead of living out a foreign dream, Caryn had to keep flying back to the UK ___She was missing her husband and her dream of children wasn’t happening.

‘I discovered I had thyroid cancer and at one point I had to go into a hospital isolation unit,’ Debbie says.

‘Caryn was in constant contact, keeping my spirits high.

The returns were attractive — three per cent a month — and when Debbie saw money pouring into her account, she was thrilled.

This may seem a considerable sum for a holiday home, but Debbie and her business consultant husband James, 50, could easily afford it.

After all, they had seen their life savings of £120,000 double in less than two years thanks to an ingenious investment scheme run by Debbie’s best friend Caryn Bates, 42, and her stockbroker brother Matthew Sullivan, 54.

I’ve never gambled and don’t even play the Lottery.

I thought I was building a legacy for our daughters.’‘I never saw her with anything extravagant, so didn’t suspect she was taking my money.

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