‘Dating conmen cheated women out of £220,000’

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VULNERABLE WOMEN were conned out of £220,000, including £170,000 from one victim, by a conspiracy which targeted single women looking for love on an internet dating site, a court has heard.

The victims were duped after they responded to a false profile of an “attractive middle-aged man” on the Match.com website.

Once the relationship developed, the conspirators would start requesting money.

Simon Edwards, prosecuting, told a jury at Winchester Crown Court, that they created a tale that the fake man, normally called James Richards, was due to receive a £100m inheritance from his father but this was tied up by bureaucracy in India.

He said that at first the women would be asked for a £700 legal fee by a fake solicitor and then the sums requested to help release the money increased from £10,000 to an “astonishing” £100,000.

Mr Edwards said that one woman handed over a total of £174,000 while some victims realised it was a scam and did not pay any money.

Brooke Boston, 28, of Titchfield, Hampshire, and Eberechi Ekpo, 26, of Southsea, Hampshire, both deny charges of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering.

Monty Emu, 28, of Southsea, and Adewunmi Nusi, 27, of Hermitage, Berkshire, both deny money laundering.

The jury was told that Emmanuel Oko, 29, Southsea, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud and money laundering and Chukwuka Ugwu, 28, of Southsea, has pleaded guilty to money laundering.

Mr Edwards said that the conspirators would begin by sending messages of love and “overblown affection” to the victims through the Match.com website before moving on to emails and text messages.

Examples of the messages 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.”

Another read: “Honey, seriously I love you because I have never been loved by anyone like you loved me.

“I feel like a complete man. The thought of your hands on my body, particularly when you hold me when I am sleeping.”

Mr Edwards said once contact had developed, the conspirators would move away from Match.com to emails.

One of the victims, Suzanne Hardman, from Basingstoke, sobbed as she told the court that she was duped by the false profile of James Richards into handing over about £170,000 to the conspirators.

She told the court that they became friends on Match.com and he told her that he was widowed and had lost his mother.

She said she could relate to him because her mother had also died recently.

She said: “He was very sociable, we got on, like a friendship. I learnt a bit about his background, I told him a bit about mine.”

She said “James Richards” told her that his dead father had a frozen account in India with £1.5m in it.

He also told her that he intended to sell a number of properties owned by his father.

The trial continues.