Five people were sentenced on Friday, 2 August, at Guildford Crown Court for their part in an online romance fraud conspiracy.
Using internet dating sites, the group 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 then started asking to borrow money, citing everything from help paying for veterinary bills to legal fees and travel costs. Believing they were in a loving relationship, two victims handed over a total of £240,000 between 2016 and 2017.
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.
The three ring leaders were sentenced as follows:
- Yaw Sarpong, 22, from Hampshire - sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment for conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation.
- Nicholas Adade, 23, from Stoke on Trent - sentenced to 3 years and 7 months for conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and money laundering, plus 14 months for money laundering to run concurrently.
- The third ringleader, Eric Ocansey, 35, from Birmingham - sentenced to 2 years imprisonment for conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation, plus 14 months for money laundering to run concurrently.
The other group members were as follows:
- Obed Addo, 37, from Roehampton - sentenced to 21 months imprisonment for money laundering.
- Daniel Keh, 25, from Enfield - received 18 months imprisonment for converting criminal property and supplying articles to be used in fraud, plus 6 months for money laundering to run concurrently.
- Makeda Stair, 23, from Enfield - to be sentenced on 9 August.
In a statement one of the victims, ‘Sharon’, a mother of two grown-up children, said: “I lost my sense of self-worth and my integrity which, through the help of victim support and the support of my children, I’ve managed to restore. There were some very black days and it’s been an uphill battle. Financially, I lost everything and this will continue throughout the rest of my life. I am systematically repaying those I borrowed from and I’ve had to get a flat share. I just manage to cover my share of the rent and bills and have nothing left over.”
Detective Constable Rebecca Mason of Surrey Police’s Economic Crime Unit said: “I want to pay tribute to the bravery of the two victims in coming forward and working with us to bring this case to court. They have been completely determined to get closure for themselves, but also to ensure that no one else suffers as much as they have at the hands of these heartless people. This type of crime plays mercilessly on personal emotions. These women have gone from the high excitement of being in love to the extreme low of realising they have been victims of crime and their trust and generosity has been completely abused. I can’t emphasise enough, having got to know them throughout this case, that these are both intelligent, sensible women who were taken advantage of by a cunning, cruel, and highly manipulative gang of fraudsters. It is thanks to these women, these criminals are now behind bars and cannot hurt other people. Now, if we can do one more positive thing – it is to spread the word on their behalf about how to stay safe when dating online. They don’t want anyone else to be left as financially and emotionally devastated as they have been.”
Bernadette Lawrie BEM is Surrey Police’s Financial Safeguarding Officer, a specialist role supporting vulnerable victims of fraud. She said: “The victims in this case should be praised. We often find that victims of romance fraud can be embarrassed about coming forward and blame themselves. We don’t blame, or judge them for a single second; we know how ruthless and clever these criminals are – and make no mistake, this is a crime - and how easy it is to be taken in by them. Fraudsters take money but they also take away their victims’ confidence, and destroy lives. We do all we can to help and support romance fraud victims to move on from this and make sure they don’t become victims of this crime again.”
Surrey Police’s advice on how to stay safe when dating online 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.
Surrey Police has recently joined forces with Scamalytics - an organisation that is creating a global blacklist of scammers: https://scamalytics.com/. Using an online form anyone can enter images, names and details of profiles suspected to be fronts for romance fraudsters. Scamalytics can analyse the pictures, names used, profile details and IP addresses and from those, find other fake profiles managed by the same criminals. These can then be taken down.
Bernadette adds: “Romance fraud can be perpetrated by serious organised crime gangs, who can be based anywhere in the world, and can be hiding behind as many as 50 different dating profiles. By using Scamalytics’ service we make it as hard as possible for them to ply their illegal trade in the UK. If you feel you’ve been a victim of romance fraud, I would really urge you to report it to Surrey Police on 101, or online on our website. Then either you can let Scamalytics know, or we can do that for you.”
(Surrey Police, Lead Communications Officer, Corporate Communications)