“Good morning beautiful. How are you?” it said. Excited to hear from him, Sharon quickly replied.
Instead, Kevin Churchill was a dating profile set up by a gang of ruthless criminals, specifically designed to rinse money from vulnerable people online.
Today, six people will be sentenced and face up to 10 years’ jail for romance fraud offences after persuading Sharon and another woman to hand over almost a quarter of a million pounds.
Detective Rebecca Mason, of Surrey Police, said: “This is the first time a gang has been convicted of this type of crime.”
|Fake profile, using the name Kevin Churchill, used to scam Sharon Turner|
Sharon, 63, who lives in London and works in property, says: “Three people in my office had met their partners online, so I thought it was worth a shot.”
In October 2016, she set up a profile on a site for older daters and two weeks later matched with Kevin Churchill.
She says: “The initial message was low-key. It just said he liked my profile and asked if I’d be interested in chatting.”
Before long she and Kevin were exchanging messages every day and he started dropping hints he was wealthy.
Sharon says: “It said on his profile he lived in Chelsea. Later, it said Chiswick. I asked why he’d changed it, and he said women were always after his money.”
Kevin asked Sharon for her number and they started texting and phoning. “He sounded very well-spoken, which fitted with what he’d told me,” she says.
Soon after, Kevin sent flowers. She says: “I couldn’t believe that, after all this time on my own, I’d found someone who wanted me.” They arranged to meet in the November, but at the last minute Kevin cancelled due to a business trip.
She says: “He told me he ran a company that supplied medical equipment all over the world, so travelled regularly.” A few weeks later, he asked her to lend him money.
She says: “He said his dog was in kennels as he was away, and he needed someone to pay an £800 vet bill. He told me he couldn’t transfer the money himself because he banked with Coutts.
“I’d never heard of Coutts, but when I looked it up, I saw only the creme de la creme bank there.”
She transferred the money and even though Kevin never met her to return it, they carried on chatting over Christmas and more requests for money came in.
Kevin told Sharon he was in Haiti and needed funds for transport and legal fees. She says: “Looking back, I wonder how I could have fallen for it. But it’s human nature – we all want to be with somebody and to be loved by somebody.”
Sharon paid him the money, drawing on her savings. As time went on, she had moments of suspicion. She says: “Some of his messages had an aggressive tone. To test him, I asked questions I’d asked earlier, like the name of his dog. Every time, he gave the same answer.”
In February 2017, Kevin asked an even bigger favour. Sharon recalls: “He mentioned he’d been dealing with a politician in Haiti, and said a man was coming to Brussels to pay him money he was owed. He wanted me to go and fetch it, and bring a thank you gift of £2,000 for the man.”
Believing that if she collected the money, she would finally be repaid, Sharon travelled to Brussels, where she was met by two well-dressed men.
After handing over the cash she came back to the UK. But, once again, she did not get her money back. By this time, Sharon realised something was amiss but could not stop giving Kevin money.
She says: “I equate it to a gambling addiction because it’s exactly the same. I knew I was in a deep hole and couldn’t see a way out of it. I just had to carry on and hope Kevin was who he said he was.”
She had not told anyone about her online romance in case they thought she was “desperate”. But her grown-up daughter grew suspicious and confronted her in February 2017.
Sharon denied everything, but the amounts of money Kevin demanded increased, and she began borrowing from family and friends. She says: “I lied about what the money was for, I felt so ashamed.”
By April, her daughter was so worried she told her brother and they called the police. Sharon says: “My children said, ‘You have been groomed’. I wouldn’t accept it.”
Police investigated, and uncovered a sophisticated scam. Detective Mason says: “The gang was very good at what they did.
“The ringleader had five different time zones on his phone, so he knew when to ring the victims, depending on which country he claimed to be in.”
Sharon says: “I was in denial about how much money I’d given him, but in the end it was close to £200,000.
“I was mortified. When it finally hit me, I had suicidal thoughts.”
Dating fraud is on the rise, with £50million lost in the UK alone in 2018.
On Friday, the gang who conned Sharon will be sentenced.
A jury at Guildford crown court found Yaw Sarpong, 22, of Hampshire, guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation, which Nicholas Adade Adu, 23, of Stoke-on-Trent, and Eric Ocansey, 35, of Birmingham, had admitted.
Obed Addo, 37, of Roehampton, South West London, was found guilty of converting criminal property – a money laundering offence – and Daniel Keh, 25, and Makeda Stair, 23, of Enfield, North London, admitted the same offence and fraud charges.
Sharon says: “Financially I’ve been ruined. I’ll be paying people back for a long time. I hope others can learn from my mistakes.”
She has been dating a new partner – in person – for 14 months, and says: “He’s fabulous and treats me like gold.”
Culled from Mirror UK
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