A WOMAN from Basingstoke has told a court how she was duped into handing over thousands of pounds in an alleged match.com dating scam.
Suzanne Hardman broke down in the witness box at Winchester Crown Court as she recalled how she gave £170,000 in savings from the sale of her home to a man she knew as James Richards.
She was one of several women that four defendants targeted by creating fake profiles for middle-aged men on match.com, a dating website, prosecutor Simon Edwards said. In total, the four received £220,000 from the women, the court heard.
Ms Hardman said she met Mr Richards on the dating website after joining it in March 2012, and soon after, they exchanged numbers and email addresses.
Richards told her his mother had died, and he had to go to India to retrieve £1.5million left in his father’s bank account.
Ms Hardman said Richards claimed he needed money for the flight, and then more funds to obtain certificates and an affidavit to release the cash, as well as tax payments in the UK.
Eventually, she said she gave £170,000 through a fictitious lawyer called Rod Thompson, of Quality Solicitors.
Ms Hardman added: “When he told me about the loss of his mother, I felt sympathetic because I had also recently lost my mother. I understood how he felt about wanting to get everything sorted out.”
But the court heard she became concerned about the money, and confided in a friend in December 2012, before reporting the matter to the police.
Opening the case, Mr Edwards said the gang bombarded their victims with “overblown” messages, describing them as “my soulmate” and “my life”, before asking for money to free a £1.5m inheritance.
He said: “The operation of the conspiracy was fairly straightforward and its success depended on the trust and co-operation of the victims in this case.
“It is fair to say – and I hope I do not do them a dis-service in this – by and large, victims were financially vulnerable and to an extent emotionally vulnerable.”
Mr Edwards said money was paid into bank accounts, transferred to others, and cash withdrawn around Portsmouth. The group lived comfortably on the proceeds of their alleged crime, the court heard.
Monty Emu, 28 and Eberechi Ekpo, 26, both of Adair Road, Southsea, Brooke Boston, 28, of Common Lane, Titchfield, and Adewunmi Nusi, 37, from of Bomford Close, Hermitage, Berkshire, deny money laundering between August 2012 and December 2013.
Boston and Ekpo deny committing fraud by false representation from March 1, 2012, and February 9, 2014.
The trial continues.