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 Posted by: Ian (D. Withers)

Romance fraud trio stalked victim online to ensure she was wealthy

Ken Foy –

July 29 2022

Detectives have established that three criminals who were involved in a romance fraud in which a 66-year-old woman lost her life savings stalked her online after she became ensnared and fell in love with a false persona they set up.

A source revealed last night that after the victim met with a man calling himself Neil Turner on the dating website Plenty of Fish in November 2019, the gang involved in stealing €282,000 from her ensured that she was a person of means.

“Evidence gathered from electronic devices seized showed that these individuals googled her and checked out her social media profiles to establish that she had money,” the source said.

“This is a professional woman who did have access to a lot of funds and there can be no doubt that if their research showed that she was a woman living in poor circumstances they would have had no interest in her.

“They knew that she had a good job, and all this shows the danger of one’s life story being put for people to see on the internet.”

The Irish Independent can also reveal that the investigation by the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau (GNECB) that led to the three criminals receiving jail sentences yesterday also uncovered other victims.

The three convictions are the first for romance fraud in Ireland, and sources said an important aspect of the probe is that it led fraud squad officers to learn that criminals who communicate with the victim in this type of crime are based in Ireland.

It had been previously believed they were based abroad.

Much of these crimes happened during the early stages of the Covid pandemic, a time that was described as a “perfect storm” for romance fraud because of a spike in the use of dating sites by single people as well as perpetrators having a valid excuse not to travel to meet their victims.

After forensic analysis of electronic devices, gardaí discovered that the three men had another victim, a woman in the UK who had lost a considerable cash sum to them.

This woman did not want to make a statement to gardaí and there has been no prosecution in that case.

Seven other Irish-based potential victims aged from their 40s to their 60s were also identified by gardaí, but fortunately for them, they had not yet handed any money over to the fraudsters.

“When they were identified, these romance frauds were still at the grooming stage and these women had not handed over any money,” a source said.

“They were very surprised and shocked when contacted by gardaí and they were later given detailed crime prevention advice.”

When detectives carried out raids in the summer of 2020, one of the suspects was logged on as Neil Turner on the dating website and a number of saved conversations were discovered.

“They had to save the conversation thread so they could know what different story they were saying to each of their victims,” the source said.

The three sentenced yesterday are suspected of working for the global Black Axe crime syndicate.

Investigations have established that the men gained very little of the €282,000 that was stolen from the woman, with these funds mainly being transferred to bank accounts controlled by more senior gang members in Turkey and Vietnam.

Omowale Owolabi (31), of Kentswood Court, Navan, Co Meath, pleaded guilty to theft; Raak Sami Sadu (32), of Lohunda Downs, Clonsilla, Dublin 15, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud; and Samson Ajayi (33), of Park Wood, Grangerath, Co Meath, pleaded guilty to three money- laundering charges.

Judge Martin Nolan sentenced Owolabi to three years and three months in prison. He sentenced Ajayi to two-and-a-half years in prison and Sadu to three years.

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