An Irish court has jailed three romance scammers who tricked a 66-year-old woman out of her life savings.
The three men - Omowale Owolabi, 31, of Navan Co Meath, 32-year-old Raak Sami Sadu, of Clonsilla, Dublin, and Samson Ajayi, 33, of Grangerath, Co Meath - admitted their involvement in the fraudulent scheme where they created a fake profile in the name of "Neil Turner" on the Plenty of Fish website.
Their victim, who does not wish to be named, started communicating on the dating website in November 2019 with "Neil Turner". Irish police told the court that the fraudsters communicated with their victim extensively, and over 800 pages worth of romantic messages were collected during the investigation.
"Neil Turner" told the pensioner that he ran an oil and gas exploration business of the coast of Cork.
Claiming that he was due to receive a large inheritance, "Neil Turner" requested money to support his business. Over a six month period, the fraudsters received more than €254,000 from their victim in a series of money transfers.
The woman was even tricked into visiting Dubai on "Neil Turner"'s behalf, as he was unable to travel due to his work on the oil rig.
Told that she would be reimbursed for her flight, accommodation and other expenses, the woman travelled to Dubai in 2019, where she was
met by a group of people who demanded her ID, passport details, and asked her to sign documents. The entourage also asked for $650,000 to release what they claimed was $3.25 million, but as the victim did not have the money she returned to Ireland, shaken by the experience.
Eventually becoming suspicious, the woman contacted the Irish police, who managed to identify the fraudsters through their email addresses and bank account details.
A raid on the men's homes saw laptops and mobile phones seized, revealing the gang's involvement in the scam, and the username and password for the "Neil Turner" Plenty of Fish profile. Other fake dating profiles were also discovered.
Judge Martin Nolan jailed Owolabi for three years and three months, Ajayi for two and a half years, and Sadu for three years. Judge Nolan said that the men's early admission of guilt, expressions of remorse, and lack of previous convictions, acted as as mitigating factors in his sentencing.
Detective Superintendent Michael Cryan from the National Economic Crime Bureau told reporters that this was the first time anyone in Ireland had been jailed for a romance scam:
"It was a significant conviction and victims should not be afraid or embarrassed to come forward, there is no victim blaming and anyone can be a victim of a crime like this."