England

Match.com dating fraud: Four men jailed

From top left: Emu, Nusi, Oko, Ugwu Image copyright Hampshire Constabulary
Image caption (From top left) Emu, Nusi, Oko, Ugwu targeted the "lonely" and "emotionally vulnerable"

Four men have been jailed for conning 12 women out of nearly £250,000 as part of an "elaborate" dating website scam.

Women using match.com were told the fictional James Richards needed money to release a £100m inheritance.

One victim handed over £174,000 to the "attractive middle-aged man".

Emmanuel Oko was given concurrent sentences of eight and four years. Peter Monty Emu was jailed for three and a half years, Adewunmi Nusi for 18 months and Chukwuka Ugwu for 46 weeks.

Image caption A fake profile of James Richards was posted on match.com, the court heard

The trial at Winchester Crown Court heard the scammers created fake profiles, usually with the name James Richards.

Posing as "charming" and "attentive", they gained the trust of the women before asking them to hand over large sums of money.

Once the relationships developed, the conmen started asking for cash they said was needed to release a £100m inheritance in India.

One victim, Deborah Cole, told the court she felt "drawn in".

She said: "James was very clever. He never directly asked for the money, but he put you in the position where you wanted to help. You felt drawn in."

One woman, Suzanne Hardman, handed over £174,000.

A victim became suspicious when she received the same email twice.

The court heard she wrote back to the sender, saying: "I wonder how many hearts you have broken".

'I hated myself'

In victim impact statements heard by the court, one woman said: "l no longer trust any adults, male or female. I just don't believe anything."

Another said: "At first I hated myself. It has changed me as a person.

"I feel I will live the rest of my days alone as I will never trust anyone again."

The women were first asked for a £700 legal fee by a fake solicitor, but then the sums requested rose to £100,000.

Sentencing the four men, Judge Susan Evans QC said: "This was a highly sophisticated conspiracy to defraud. It preyed on the trusting, the lonely and the emotionally vulnerable.

"The hurt and distress you caused them was enormous."

A match.com spokesman said: "The result today is a positive one. Sadly, there is a tiny minority of people who set out to exploit others, and while this is not confined to dating sites or even the internet, those who do should be convicted for their crimes as they were today.

"Our member's safety is of the utmost importance to us and the dating industry as a whole and we fully support the stand the Online Dating Association is taking on the issue."

Det Sgt Lee Macarthur, of Hampshire Police, said: "This case centres around a web of lies constructed by these devious people who had the sole intention of exploiting emotionally vulnerable women for financial gain."

The Crown Prosecution Service said it would apply for the "ill-gotten" money to be confiscated.

Oko, 30, of Waverley Grove, Southsea, Hampshire, was sentenced for conspiracy to defraud and money laundering after pleading guilty to the charges.

Emu, 28, of Portsmouth and Nusi, 37, of Hermitage, Berkshire, were convicted of money laundering. Ugwu, 29, previously pleaded guilty to the same charge.

Abbey Boston, 28, of Titchfield, Hampshire, was cleared of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering.

Eberechi Ekpo, 26, of Portsmouth was acquitted under directions of the judge on 29 August.

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