A couple scammed dozens of men, the majority being gay, out of more than £140,000 in a romance fraud scheme described by police as the “ultimate manipulation”.
Guildford Crown Court sentenced Fredrick Diji, 37, and Raquel Johnson, a 43-year-old probation officer, to a combined total of 11 years and nine months imprisonment for orchestrating a complex, callous romance fraud scheme that conned more than 80 victims.
The fraudsters used a variety of fake personas to target victims through online dating sites, such as Match and Gaydar. The pair ‘love bombed’ – an attempt to influence a person by demonstrations of excessive attention, affection and admiration – and built up trust with their victims before asking them for money for a variety of made-up reasons.
The court heard Diji contacted potential victims via chat messages and telephone calls using fake personas, My London reported.
The pair would then concoct a series of emotive and elaborative excuses for needing money; ranging from the person being held by Dutch customs when returning to the UK, to being kidnapped with the money needed to ‘secure their release’.
Diji and Johnson forged documents, including airline tickets and even death certificates, to make these lies more believable. The pair falsely reassured the victims that the money would be paid back, claiming the fake persona was about to inherit hundreds of thousands of pounds.
In one case, one man was defrauded of more than £100,000 over 14 years.
The investigation into Diji and Johnson’s complex romance fraud scheme began in 2020 after a victim in Surrey came forward, and police traced bank transfers made by the individual straight to the pair’s door.
Surrey Police, working with the City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, identified a further 179 victims throughout the investigation with many being gay men, older people or those suffering from poor health.
Police discovered 80 of these victims were linked to romance fraud, 22 to investment fraud and 77 had their identities or bank details stolen or shared. Officers also uncovered evidence of money laundering.
In total, over £400,000 was found to have been laundered through bank accounts linked to Diji and Johnson.
Diji pled guilty to conspiracy to defraud, concealing criminal property and possession of an identity document for improper means. He was sentenced to eight years imprisonment.
Johnson was sentenced to three years and nine months after pleading guilty to one count of money laundering.
Detective constable Becky Mason, who investigated the case, described romance fraud as a “heartless” and “cowardly” crime that has a “devastating impact on victims” who had their trust “exploited in the cruellest of ways”.
“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.”