Woman Looking for Love Convicted of Money Laundering

A cautionary tale of the consequences of responding to scam emails

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Sherroll Foster, 65 of Hillingdon Hill, Uxbridge pleaded guilty to money laundering on Monday, 15 August at Isleworth Crown Court.

Sherrol Foster

The judge passed sentence at the same hearing ordering Foster to pay back £3,500. She did not receive a custodial sentence as she had already spent a year on bail and had lost more than £65,000 of her own savings.

Two counts of money laundering will lie on file.

Foster had first encountered the scammers toward 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 £4million in gold deposits in Ghana that 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 just needed some additional funds in order to complete the deal.

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 additional money 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.

During this time Hamilton continued with the charade that just one more payment would settle his affairs and they would be able to meet at last.

Over the course of 24 months, she sent more than £65,000 of her own money to what she believed to be her 'soul mate' in Ghana.

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

At the same time, the gang was targeting other victims in the UK, specifically women over 60 who used dating websites. 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 beau's 'mother', Sherroll Foster, as she had a UK bank account.

In April 2014 the first victim began sending money to Foster. Foster then forwarded this money to Ghana via international money transfer without question the next day.

In June 2014 the second victim began sending money to Foster who again forwarded the money via international money transfer without question.

The payments were referenced with the victims' names. Foster did not know these women, but later told officers that she believed Hamilton's claims that they were friends of his also helping him to free up his investment.

Between 2 July 2014 and 22 July 2014, £5,100 was paid into Foster's bank account and she sent this, along with more of her own money, to Ghana.

In total, one of the victims sent £8,000 to Foster's bank account and another sent £19,000. Eventually both victims 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 that she had continued to send money because she "wanted to believe" that 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. Despite being on bail on suspicion of money laundering, 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. At this stage she provided a no comment interview.

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 lay on file. She has been ordered to repay £3,500.

Enquiries have been conducted to trace Mark Hamilton and he has not been traced.

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 to both the dating site and to Action Fraud. 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."

Use websites such as Snopes and Action Fraud to check questionable emails. If in doubt, don't respond.

August 18, 2016

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