I am a widow. Lost my husband to 9/11 terror attacks in New York. He made it out of the collapsed building but he later died because of heavy dust and smoke and he was asthmatic.
THOSE ARE THE words, not of a bereaved wife, but of a scammer who helped launder money from vulnerable victims until police tracked her down almost two years ago.
She was jailed in London this week.
Patricia Wutaan, 55, wrote the scripts used by so-called romance scammers, and planned to provide them with false IDs.
On 10 December last, she pleaded guilty to three counts of money laundering and two counts of possession of articles for use in fraud at Southwark Crown Court. She will spend two years in prison, a judge ruled on Friday.
Police, with the help of Interpol, were able to track down one of her victims – a man in his 70s living in Switzerland.
Once he was identified, a German-speaking Met Police officer contacted him. The elderly man told how he had been approached by someone using a woman’s profile on a dating website.
Once she gained his trust, she convinced him to hand over money to help her free up funds from her late father’s estate.
The victim transferred a total of £70,000 to a number of bank accounts – including £29,267 to Wutaan’s – over the course of a few months.
Financial investigators determined that she had received three payments from the man during two weeks in January 2014.
As part of the romance scams, letters were prepared to help gain the trust of potential victims.
As well as the note penned by a person purporting to be a 9/11 widow, detectives found more damning evidence during a search of Wutaan’s rental property following her arrest on 11 February 2014.
“I’ve not been in a relationship since demise of late husband,” another handwritten script read.
I am in London to meet family attorney of late husband to negotiate on how to clear the identified assets he left me. He left me a vague will with some conditions to meet before I could access the assets and cash he left me in his will. I must be able to prove to the family attorney that I have moved on with my life and show I am engaged with someone else.
A third told a story of a broken sewing machine.
“Although I have now fixed it but I used the money I am supposed to pay my house rent to fix it and now I am broke and can’t afford to pay my house rent,” potential scammers were told to write. “Told him I am worried because if I don’t pay I’ll have to leave.”
The notes included instructions such as:
Stay calm and moody until you get his final word.
Let him do most of the talking, be sad and worried about taking care of bills for rest of the month. When he asks what he can do to help, ask him for $2000 – $3000.
Officers also recovered fraudulent documents including photocopies of fake passports and driver’s licences.
Arrest and confession
Met Police found and arrested Wutaan after acting on intelligence. They stopped her while she was walking on the High Street in Bromley on 11 February 2014.
She claimed that the £16,300 she had in her coat pocket at the time was “from a friend in Switzerland for the refurbishment of her house”. She could not recall the name and address of this friend. Nor did she own a property – she lived in rented accommodation.
The 55-year-old also initially denied writing the letters but an analysis of her handwriting proved otherwise. She eventually admitted to her crime in court.
Police, however, conceded there was no evidence she had used the scripts herself.
“Wutaan’s home was an Aladdin’s cave of fraudsters’ scripts and false IDs,” said Detective Sergeant Claire Palin after the sentencing hearing.
It was almost like she was compiling a fraudsters’ handbook.
“The scripts she had written demonstrate exactly the kinds of stories that victims are fed by fraudsters; designed to manipulate the victim into feeling sorry for them and wanting to help them.
“I urge anyone using a dating site to question what they are being told by other ‘daters’, especially when they are being asked for money or personal details. If you think you have been a victim, please don’t be embarrassed – tell police, so we can try and stop the fraudsters.”
The £16,300 seized from Wutaan will be returned to the Swiss victim.