August 20th 2014
Four men have appeared in Winchester Crown Court in connection with an alleged romance scam which defrauded vulnerable women out of £220,000. One victim lost £174,000.
The women responded to a fake profile on the match.com website of an 'attractive middle aged man', following which a relationship developed and money was requested. The non-existent suitor, going under the name of James Richards, was said to be due to inherit £100 million from his father, but the fortune was tied up by Indian bureaucracy. The victims were initially asked by a bogus solicitor named 'Rod Thompson' to pay a £700 legal fee, a sum which subsequently increased by anything from £10,000 to as much as £100,000. One unfortunate victim – Suzanne Hardman from Basingstoke – lost £174,000, whilst others had a lucky escape by realising that the online romance was a scam.
Brooke Boston, 28, of Titchfield, Hampshire, and Eberechi Ekpo, 26, of Southsea, Hampshire, denied charges of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering, whilst Monty Emu, 28, of Southsea, and Adewunmi Nusi, 27, of Hermitage, Berkshire, both denied money laundering.
Previously, Emmanuel Oko, 29, of Southsea, had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud and money laundering and Chukwuka Ugwu, 28, of Southsea, had pleaded guilty to money laundering.
The bogus romances started on match.com's website and moved on to text messages and emails. The messages, all sent to multiple recipients, included;
"You make me feel loved, you make me feel safe, most importantly you make me feel wanted."
"I knew our friendship would grow from the first day we spoke but neither one of us could imagine the love exploding, no thundering into our hearts."
"Honey, seriously I love you because I have never been loved by anyone like you loved me."
Edwards said that once contact had developed, the conspirators would move away from match.com to emails. The 'inheritance' story was supported by fake documents, many of which contained misspelt words and other errors. The fraudsters concocted an elaborate and convincing story, which included properties in South Africa and the recent loss of 'James Richards' mother.
The case continues.