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Met Police
Money Laundering

London woman loses life savings after being targeted by 'romance scammers'

Over the course of two years, she sent more than £65,000 (€75,000) to a man in Ghana.

A WOMAN TARGETED by so-called romance scammers has been convicted of money laundering in London.

Sherroll Foster (65) from Uxbridge pleaded guilty to money laundering at Isleworth Crown Court yesterday.

Foster did not receive a custodial sentence as she had already spent a year on bail and lost more than £65,000 (about €75,000) of her own savings. The judge ordered her to pay back £3,500 (about €4,000).

The court heard that Foster first encountered the scammers at the end of 2012, through a dating website, when she began an online relationship with a man she knew as Mark Hamilton.

Hamilton purported to be a businessman who had £4 million (about €4.6 million) in gold deposits in Ghana he was trying to have released from the bank. He claimed that after he had recovered his wealth from the bank he would come to Foster and they would spend their retirement together in luxury. He said he just needed some additional funds in order to complete the deal.

In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said Foster began to send money to Hamilton via a money transfer site to Ghana in February 2013. Over the course of the next 12 months, she parted with her life savings and any extra cash that she could spare from her income.

Over time she accumulated an overdraft, credit card debts, personal loans and a number of payday loans to enable her to send more money to Ghana.

Over the course of two years, she sent more than £65,000 (€75,000) to the man.

Some months later, Foster allowed the scammers to use her own bank account for other women to transfer funds.

At the same time, the gang was targeting other victims in the UK, specifically women over 60 who used dating websites.

Other victims 

Police said two additional victims were told a very similar story relating to gold in Ghana. However, they were not prepared to send money abroad, but instead agreed to send their money to their internet friend’s ‘mother’, Foster, as she had a UK bank account.

In April 2014, the first victim began sending money to Foster, who then forwarded it to Ghana.

In June 2014, the second victim began sending money to Foster, who again forwarded the money via international money transfer.

In total, one of the victims sent £8,000 (about €9,200) to Foster’s bank account and another sent £19,000 (€22,000). Police said that both victims eventually sensed something was not right and contacted Action Fraud.

Foster was arrested on 10 February 2015 on suspicion of fraud and money laundering. When she was interviewed, Foster said she had continued to send money because she “wanted to believe” Hamilton was genuine.

When Foster was released on bail she continued as usual with her online relationship with Hamilton and sent more of her own money to Ghana.

On 23 March 2015, another victim of a romance scam paid money into Foster’s account on different occasions totalling £3,500 (€4,000). Despite being on bail on suspicion of money laundering, police said Foster sent the money abroad to Ghana without question.

When she returned on bail on 11 August 2015, she was further arrested on an additional count of money laundering.

Mark Hamilton 

Foster was charged with three counts of money laundering relating to the three victims and an additional count of fraud by false representation (aiding and abetting) for continuing the fraud process by sending money from others to Ghana.

Foster pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering while the other charges will lie on file. She has been ordered to repay £3,500 (€4,000).

Police have, to date, been unable to trace Mark Hamilton.

Detective Constable Mark Cresswell of the Met’s Operation Falcon said:

This may not be a unique tale, but it most certainly should be treated as a cautionary one. These fraudsters target vulnerable people and exploit them not only financially, but emotionally, making their victims believe that true happiness is almost within reach and just a bank transfer away.

“Sherroll Foster was looking forward to a comfortable retirement prior to becoming involved with this scam. She now faces financial ruin and extensive, long-term debt.

“If someone online that you have never met in person asks you for money it is highly likely that it is a scam. If you have already sent money stop all contact immediately and report them … In most cases the money given under these circumstances cannot be recovered.

“Please don’t give your bank details to people you don’t know personally and never allow funds to be placed in your account for transferring on. This is money laundering and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment,” he added.

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