Six romance fraudsters have been convicted at Guildford Crown Court for their parts in an online dating fraud conspiracy.
Using internet dating sites, the gang hid behind the false personas of Kevin Churchill and Kevin Thompson, posing as wealthy businessmen with international lifestyles to target women in a bid to persuade them of their genuine romantic interest.
Over time the fraudsters got to know their victims and the demands for money began. Each believing they were in a loving relationship, two victims handed over a total of £240,000 between 2016 and 2017.
Taking advantage of a love of animals that both victims had, the criminal gang’s first demand was for money for a vet’s bill for what they claimed was their sick dog.
Once this first payment had been made, the fraudsters went on to take £200,000 over time from one victim, much of this borrowed from family and friends, with a devastating effect on the victim’s relationships with those people. They used various tactics to coerce the victim to hand over money, and their excuses included needing the funds for solicitors’ and agents’ fees, travel accommodation and flights. At one point she travelled to Brussels to give money to people she believed to be representing the Haitian government. These crimes came to light when the victim’s family realised all was not as it seemed.
Using similar persuasive tactics, they also took £40,000 from a second victim.
In a complex crime in which the money passed through various bank accounts, our investigators were able to trace the perpetrators by meticulously following the fraudulent funds.
Yesterday (Monday, 22 July), a jury found Yaw Sarpong, 22, of Hamphsire guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation. His associates Nicholas Adade Adu, 23, of Stoke on Trent, and Eric Ocansey, 35, of Birmingham had already pleaded guilty to this charge.
Obed Addo, 37, from Roehampton was found guilty of converting criminal property.
Daniel Keh, 25, of Enfield pleaded guilty to converting criminal property and supplying articles to be used in fraud. Final group member Makeda Stair, 23, of Enfield pleaded guilty to converting criminal property and possession of articles to be used in fraud.
Detective Constable Rebecca Mason from Surrey Police’s Economic Crime Unit says:
“The victims are articulate, sensible women, and in hindsight are both aghast that they were able to let themselves fall prey to these criminals.
“The impact on them has been shattering, and to this day they are struggling to re-build their finances at a time in their lives when they should be planning for a relaxed retirement.
“This gang of fraudsters was very good at what they did, painting a picture of the idyllic life the victims would have with the man they thought they were in a serious relationship with. They were persuasive, cruel, forceful, and manipulative. They had every element of their cover story planned out and knew exactly what to say to take full advantage of these two generous, intelligent women. Most of us want companionship and to spend time with someone we feel a connection to, and most of us instinctively want to trust others. In truth, any one of us could fall for something like this.
“This was a complex and time consuming case to investigate due to the network of people and numerous bank accounts involved, and the huge amount of text and Skype correspondence that passed between the victims and the gang. I hope it sends a clear message that no matter how complicated a crime is, we will do whatever it takes to get justice for victims.”
Bernadette Lawrie BEM is the financial safeguarding officer for Surrey Police, a specialist role to protect the county’s vulnerable people from fraud.
“Romance fraud is one of the fastest growing fraud types affecting vulnerable people.
“It has a real long-lasting emotional impact on victims who don’t just experience a financial loss, but the heartbreak of the loss of a relationship they thought they had. It’s an investment that goes far beyond money and we often see victims who don’t eat or sleep, become reclusive or sever ties with family and friends.
“We know that the majority of victims in Surrey live alone and often need extra support such as debt management support or help finding bereavement counselling. In romance fraud cases, a uniformed police officer will always visit each victim so we can provide support and advice and ensure they don’t become repeat victims.
“Online dating is a popular way of finding a partner so we’re certainly not saying don’t do it; in fact we work closely with the industry to ensure it’s as safe as possible. I would ask anyone using online dating sites or apps to please make themselves aware of our DATES advice.”
Surrey Police’s advice is:
Don’t rush into an online relationship – get to know the person, not the profile. Ask plenty of questions.
Analyse their profile – confirm the person's identity. Check the person is genuine by putting their name, profile pictures or any repeatedly-used phrases and the term ‘dating scam’ into your search engine.
Talk to your friends and family - be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them.
Evade scams - never send money or share your bank details with someone you’ve only met online, no matter what reason they give or how long you've been speaking to them.
Stay on the dating site messenger service - don't use email, phone, social media or other messaging apps until you’re confident the person is who they say they are.
The group will be sentenced on Friday, 2 August.