Life sav­ings lost and found guilty of money laun­der­ing

Woman conned by web ‘ro­mance’ with Ghana gold scam­mer

Harefield Gazette - - NEWS - By Goolis­tan Cooper goolis­tan.cooper@trin­i­tymir­

A WOMAN from Uxbridge who fell for an on­line ro­mance scam is fac­ing “fi­nan­cial ruin and ex­ten­sive, long term debt” fol­low­ing a con­vic­tion for money laun­der­ing.

Sher­roll Fos­ter spent her life sav­ings, used pay­day loans firms, and ran up an over­draft and credit card debt while be­ing fleeced by a man she had met on­line known as ‘Mark Hamil­ton’.

She lost £65,000 over two years af­ter he promised they would be to­gether if she could pro­vide funds to al­low him to re­lease gold de­posits from a bank in Ghana worth £4 mil­lion.

But she then al­lowed her bank ac­count to be used to re­ceive money sent by other scam vic­tims, which she then for­warded on to Ghana.

The 65-year-old from Hilling­don Hill, said she be­lieved the other vic­tims were friends of ‘Hamil­ton’, but pleaded guilty to a sin­gle charge of money laun­der­ing, be­fore she was sen­tenced at Isle­worth Crown Court on Mon­day Au­gust 15. Two counts of money laun­der­ing will lie on file.

The court was told Fos­ter had lost more than £65,000 over the space of two years in the scam, which po­lice be­lieve may have been run by a gang pos­ing as ‘Hamil­ton’.

Fos­ter had met the fraud­sters through a dat­ing web­site in 2012 and be­gan an on­line re­la­tion­ship with ‘Hamil­ton’.

He claimed to be a busi­ness­man who, once he had claimed his fortune, would come for Fos­ter so they could spend their re­tire­ment to­gether in lux­ury.

She first started send­ing money to Ghana through a money trans­fer site in Fe­bru­ary 2013 and over the course of the next 12 months parted with her life sav­ings and any ad­di­tional money that she could spare from her in­come, be­fore then turn­ing to pay­day loans and over­drafts.

Dur­ing this time Hamil­ton con­tin­ued with the cha­rade that just one more pay­ment would set­tle his af­fairs and al­low them to fi­nally meet.

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 was roped into the money laun­der­ing. The gang had ap­proached var­i­ous other po­ten­tial vic­tims, mostly women in their 60s, and spun the same tale about the gold in Ghana.

Con­cerned about send­ing their money abroad, these new vic­tims in­stead agreed to send funds to Fos­ter’s UK bank ac­count, hav­ing been told she was Hamil­ton’s mother.

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

In June that year the sec­ond vic­tim be­gan send­ing money to Fos­ter who again for­warded the money.

Fos­ter later told po­lice she be­lieved Hamil­ton’s claims that they were friends of his also help­ing him to free in­vest­ment.

In to­tal, one vic­tim sent £8,000 to Fos­ter’s bank ac­count and an­other sent £19,000. Even­tu­ally both vic­tims sensed some­thing was wrong and con­tacted Ac­tion Fraud.

Fos­ter was ar­rested on Fe­bru­ary 10, 2015 and up his told po­lice she had con­tin­ued to send money be­cause she “wanted to be­lieve” that Hamil­ton was gen­uine.

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

In March 2015, de­spite be­ing on bail on sus­pi­cion of money laun­der­ing, an­other vic­tim of the ro­mance scam paid money into Fos­ter’s ac­count to­talling £3,500 which she passed on to Ghana.

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

At court she was told to re­pay £3,500 but avoided a cus­to­dial sen­tence as she had been on bail for a year and lost her life sav­ings.

De­tec­tive Con­sta­ble Mark Cress­well of the Met’s Op­er­a­tion FAL­CON said: “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.”

These fraud­sters tar­get vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple and ex­ploit them not only fi­nan­cially but emo­tion­ally”

n DUPED: Sher­roll Fos­ter sent bor­rowed money and her own sav­ings – and those of other vic­tims – from her bank ac­count to Ghana

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