Romance fraudster jailed after scamming 80 people out of £400K

A romance fraudster who conned 80 victims out of more than £400,000 has been jailed.

Fredrick Ugo Diji, 37, was sentenced to eight years’ in prison on December 23 after he admitted conspiracy to defraud, concealing criminal property and possession of an identity document for improper means.

Co-defendant Raquel Janice Johnson, 43, who lived with Diji in Flaxman Road, Lambeth, appeared alongside him in court and was sentenced to three years and nine months after admitting one count of money laundering.

The fraud involved Diji initiating contact with his victims via online dating sites, using fake profiles, and engaging with them via chat messages and telephone calls, with victims involved believing they were engaging with a genuine person.

Diji almost exclusively targeted gay men for his fraud, though there were some examples of victims who believed they were speaking to a woman. Many of the victims were also older or suffered with poor health.

Diji would ‘love bomb’ victims with attention and affection to gain their trust and would then ask them for money for a number of different fictitious reasons.

Lies included him telling them his mother was sick abroad, had subsequently died and that money was needed to pay for funeral costs and assist in acquiring their inheritance.

In some cases, he even sent false documents including death certificates, travel documentation and identification documents to support his stories before pressuring victims to transfer him money.

These false documents were found on devices seized from the address shared by Diji and Johnson.

The fraudster would often tell victims that he just needed the money to be loaned to him but no victims ever received any money back.

Diji’s fraudulent behaviour took place between January 2005 and April 2021. A review of chats and emails on devices seized revealed a total of 80 victims of romance fraud.

The investigation began after a victim from Surrey came forward in 2020 and officers were able to trace bank transfers made by the victim straight to the pair.

One victim had been defrauded over a period of 14 years, during which they paid Diji more than £100,000.

Johnson assisted Diji’s offending by laundering money he had fraudulently gained from victims through her own bank account between January 2018 and April 2021.

A total of £426,311.68 was obtained through fraud and evidence showed that both defendants spent the money gained on personal living expenditures such as on takeaways, gym memberships, groceries, and private dental care.

Jane Mitchell, specialist prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “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.

“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.

“Johnson was complicit and assisted Diji’s offending, laundering money he had fraudulently gained from victims through her own bank account.

“We will be pursuing the defendants’ criminal gains through the Proceeds of Crime Act.”

Pictured top: Fredrick Ugo Diji and Raquel Janice Johnson (Picture: Surrey Police)

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