A man who laundered money swindled from two victims of romance fraud has been jailed for 12 months.
Latif Kasule, 32, from Uxbridge, London, was found guilty at Caernarfon Crown Court of seven counts of money laundering on Friday 4 February. He was sentenced at the same court on Friday 11 March 2022.
Kasule obtained and forwarded on money sent to him from two victims of romance fraud. The women had been lured by fraudsters into what they believed were legitimate, caring relationships. In total, the two victims lost more than £345,000.
Detective Constable Paul Ingram, from City of London Police, said:
“To put it simply, romance fraud is a form of online grooming. Victims are often left completely devastated at both the financial and emotional impact of this crime, so much so that they are apprehensive about speaking to others about it. It is people like Kasule who enable these offences to take place, with a complete disregard for the impact it has on the victims.
“City of London Police has worked closely with colleagues in North Wales Police and other law enforcement agencies throughout the investigation to identify Kasule. The sentence handed down proves that romance fraud is a serious crime and those involved in this terrible crime will be found and brought to justice.”
The perpetrators in romance fraud typically spend months gaining the trust of their victims to convince them they are in a legitimate relationship with them before any mention of needing money.
Fraudsters will then concoct a range of different stories as to why they need money to be sent to them and victims oblige because they believe they are in a loving relationship and helping their partner.
One woman was duped into sending more than £320,000 after being convinced she had met a man called “James Fischer” online. The reality was that Fischer did not exist at all.
The victim began speaking to “Fischer” online and a short while later, exchanged phone numbers to speak via a messaging app. The pair spoke every day on the phone and the victim was lead to believe that “Fischer” worked as a telecommunications manager who sourced contracts overseas.
The first request for money came when “Fischer” claimed that he had broken his laptop while on a business trip and was unable to purchase a new one, so asked the victim to send three laptops to an address of his “colleague” in London. The laptops were actually sent to the home address of Kasule, who forwarded them on to Ghana.
The victim also sent £2,500 to an account held in Kasule’s name, but the banks identified the account as likely to be laundering funds and the money was later returned to the victim. This offence only came to light after a family member contacted police to raise concerns about the money that had been sent.
A second woman was tricked into sending approximately £25,000 to a man she had been speaking to called “Ethan Bergmann”, who she met on a dating website. A few months later, the pair began communicating via email before moving to a messaging app.
“Bergmann”, who claimed that he worked on oil rigs around the world, spoke every day to the victim mainly via message, but also through video and audio calls. These messages and calls can originate from anywhere in the world despite the number appearing to be a phone number from the United Kingdom.
During these messages “Bergmann” asked the victim to send money to him via agents, one of whom was Kasule. The victim sent funds to two separate bank accounts held in different names with different banks. When enquiries were made, it was established these accounts were both under the control of Kasule.
Kasule directly received £2,680 from the victim and the money was subsequently forwarded onto an associate in Ghana.
The online long-distance relationship continued until “Bergmann’s” supposed death from Covid-19 in March 2020, when the victim contacted the police.
How to help protect people you know are online dating
- Help your friends and family to ensure they have adequate privacy settings on their social media accounts to ensure strangers don’t have access to their personal information.
- Stay in regular contact with your friends and family who are online dating to help spot any changes in behaviour or things that don’t seem right.
- Make friends and family aware of the signs of romance fraud so that they are conscious of the tactics criminals use to carry out these scams and reiterate that you should never transfer money to someone that you have never met in person.
- Encourage people to report to Action Fraud and the police if they have become a victim of romance fraud and not to be embarrassed about doing so.
City of London Police would urge anyone who is speaking to people they do not know or have not known for a long period of time to follow the Take Five To Stop Fraud advice.
Take Five To Stop Fraud advice
Stop: Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.
Challenge: Could it be fake? It’s okay to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.
Protect: If you think you’ve been a victim of fraud, contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud online at police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040. In Scotland, contact Police Scotland on 101.
Source: City of London Police