A criminal gang have been jailed for scamming two women out of £240,000 in an online dating scam.

Three men that had orchestrated a cruel dating scam have been sentenced to more than a decade in prison. Together, the men targeted two victims and managed to extract more than £240,000 from the women who believed they were in loving committed relationships.

Posing as Kevin Churchill and Kevin Thompson the men used internet dating sites and targeted the two women, claiming to be international businessmen. The women believed they were in genuine, loving and happy relationships, the fraudsters built up trust over the period of a year and eventually started to ask for money.

The men were branded cunning, cruel and highly manipulative at Guildford Crown Court were they were sentenced. One victim spoke to ITV news about her life changing ordeal and described how she has only managed to get through it with the help of her family and Victims Support.

She told ITV News: “I wasn’t an easy target by any means, but he just knew the right words and I got hooked. It started by his dog being ill and he was desperate and he was out of the country. He just couldn’t get any funds to a vet. Then it went on to his business side, by that time they have got you and they make you feel guilty.”

She eventually contacted police who managed to track down the con artists using specialist financial fraud officers, who followed their bank account transactions. Yaw Sarpong was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment for conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation. Nicholas Adade was sentenced to 43 months for conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and money laundering. Finally Eric Ocansey was sentenced to 38 months for money fraud and money laundering. Three other men involved in the case were also arrested and are due to be sentenced in the coming weeks.

Detective Mason from Surrey Police Economic Crime Unit told ITV News: “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.”

What is a Romance Fraud ?

Statistics released by Action Fraud revealed that people across the UK continue to fall victim to romance scams. In 2018, 4,555 reports were made to police and the total cost of this was more than £50 Million.

Romance Fraud occurs when a victim is lured into an online relationship with a fraudster. Fraudsters are very convincing and take their time grooming victims, before extracting money from them. The victim will often think they are in a genuine, loving relationship before realising they have been the victim of a scam.

The emotional impact of romance fraud can be even more difficult to come to terms with than the loss of money. Victims often describe falling victim to romance fraud as having a significant impact on their health or financial well-being. It is thought that these numbers could be even higher as many victims feel embarrassed or ashamed to have fallen victim and never report it to authorities.

Action Fraud recommend the following tips to avoid romance scams:

  • Don’t rush into an online relationship – get to know the person, not the profile and ask plenty of questions.
  • Analyse their profile and 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 about your dating choices. Be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them.
  • Evade scammers by never sending money to, or sharing your bank details with, someone you’ve met online, no matter what reason they give or how long you’ve been speaking to them.
  • Stay on the dating site messenger service until you’re confident the person is who they say they are. If you do decide to meet in person, make sure the first meeting is in a public place and let someone else know where you’re going to be.
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