A couple from South London duped approximately 80 people, primarily gay men, out of more than £400,000, or $482,126 in U.S. dollars, as part of an elaborate scam that had them posing as single people in need of cash on dating apps.
Fredrick Diji, 37, and his partner, probation officer, Raquel Johnson, 43, created numerous fake profiles and “love bombed” victims they met through dating websites and apps, such as Gaydar and Match. The two would contact their targets via chat messages and telephone calls, build up trust, and then ask them for money for a number of different reasons, reports the UK news website MyLondon.
Among some of the excuses Diji used to entrap victims was that he was being held by Dutch customs while trying to return to the UK, that he needed money to be released from kidnappers, and that his mother had died and he needed money to pay for funeral costs. In some cases, he even sent forged documents, including death certificates, travel documentation and ID documents to back up his stories in order to pressure victims into sending him money.
Often, Diji would promise that he was slated to inherit hundreds of thousands of pounds, saying he needed a temporary loan until he received the funds, and promising to pay his victims back.
Diji’s scam took place between January 2005 and April 2021, according to police. Analyses of online chats and emails, as well as the aforementioned forged documents, which were found on devices seized from Diji and Johnson’s South London residence, revealed that the couple had targeted more than 179 victims in total. One victim even sent Diji more than £100,000 over a period of 14 years.
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Out of the 179 victims, 80 were linked to romance fraud, 22 to investment fraud, and 77 had their identities or bank details stolen or shared. Police also uncovered evidence of money laundering by tracing bank transfers between multiple accounts. In total, Diji and Johnson are believed to have laundered more than £400,000 through their bank accounts.
Police say the couple spent the money from the scam on personal living expenditures, including takeout food, gym memberships, groceries, and private dental care. Diji almost exclusively targeted gay men, although some victims believed they were speaking to a woman and some of the victims were older or in poor health — making them prime targets for the scam.
Diji pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud, concealing criminal property, and possession of an identity document for improper means. Johnson pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering.
On Dec. 23, the pair have since been convicted and jailed, with Judge Robert Fraser, of Guildford Crown Court, sentencing Diji to eight years in prison, and Johnson to three years and nine months in prison.
In handing down the sentence, Fraser said the pair carried out a “truly callous conspiracy of significant scale,” saying: “The harm you have caused has been devastating to so many.”
Jane Mitchell, a specialist prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service, condemned Diji and Johnson’s actions after the hearing.
“Romance fraud is a horrendous crime and the cost to individual victims goes well beyond financial loss. It is despicable that Diji targeted men either because of their sexuality, age or poor health in order to defraud them,” she said. “The victims in this case were looking for genuine love and companionship and Diji acted with greed and callousness to take advantage and emotionally manipulate them, persuading them to hand over their money.”
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Detective Constable Becky Mason, who investigated the case, described the crimes as “heartless and cowardly,” and expressed hope that victims felt vindicated by the prison sentences handed down by Judge Fraser.
“Diji had his routine down to a tee, and assisted by Johnson, they would work together using a number of fake personas to target victims online, love-bomb them with promises of meeting in person and declarations of love, before fabricating reasons for desperately needing money, telling the victims that if they really loved them they would help them out,” Mason said. “It was the ultimate manipulation which preyed on people’s emotions and good nature.”
Dating apps have become fertile ground for potential criminals across the globe. Criminals can create fake profiles and request money, as Diji and Johnson did, or may decide to blackmail individuals into paying them or risk being “outed.” Still others may use apps to lure victims to either rob or assault them.
A spokesperson for Match said the company was sorry to hear about the case, but insisted that members’ safety is of utmost importance to the company and noted that the company cooperated with police in this particular case.
“We are constantly reviewing our safety methods and proactively communicate safe dating advice to our members and within our platform. We encourage everyone to take the same precautions when meeting people online, as they would if they were meeting through friends or in a pub, bar or public space,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
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“It is always best to keep conversations on the Match site, messaging service or app, so that there is an accurate record and any concerns can be quickly reported. We also have a ‘report this profile’ function prominently positioned,” the statement continued. “We strive to create a safe and friendly environment for all users.”
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