A man responsible for defrauding at least 19 British women out of hundreds of thousands of pounds through elaborate international romance frauds has been jailed in Ghana. Maurice Asola-Fadola was found guilty of over 20 offences, including deception, money laundering and possessing a forged passport. He was sentenced to serve five years in prison.
Beginning in November 2011, the trial drew substantially on evidence from the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and has continued to be supported by the National Crime Agency (NCA), who investigated cases of suspected victims in the UK and provided forensic advice and witness material to the Ghanaian prosecution. The evidence proved that Asola-Fadola had conned more than £800,000 from his British victims, with one victim personally losing more than a quarter of a million pounds.
Five of Asola-Fadola’s British victims returned to Ghana in 2012 to give evidence and face the man who caused them emotional suffering and financial hardship. Today he was ordered to pay them full compensation.
Maurice Asola-Fadola was arrested by Ghana’s Serious Fraud Office on the 12th April 2010 acting on information provided by SOCA, which indicated that Asola-Fadola was involved in money laundering.
The extent of Asola-Fadola’s criminality became clearer when, following his arrest, police searched his mansion on the outskirts of Accra. Investigation of his finances brought to light large payments from women in the UK. Further investigation proved they were the result of massive romance frauds which he had masterminded.
The evidence provided by the British victims showed that Asola-Fadola typically targeted women through online dating websites, posing as a US serviceman and using photos sourced from the internet. He used social engineering skills, adapting his approach to exploit the particular needs or emotions of each victim to convince them to send him money.
His methodology also included inviting victims to travel to Ghana. Those who did would receive further false promises and, on their return to the UK, would often secure additional funds to service the increasingly complex deceptions.
In some instances, the approach was based on an investment or business opportunity, for others the fraud exploited victims’ vulnerabilities or inexperience with online relationships. Asola-Fadola would expertly build rapport with victims, often over several months, before appealing for money for an invented emergency such as medical treatment or even claiming it was to buy his way out of the army.
A mobile phone, computer and a number of SIM cards seized during the search of Asola-Fadola’s house were brought back to the UK for detailed forensic examination. The evidence gathered enabled SOCA to identify more victims in the UK, as well as potential victims in other countries including France, Sweden, Italy and the US.
Speaking about the case, senior fraud investigator Colin Woodcock commented: “This result represents a great victory for the victims in this case, and we hope it has a significant impact on other perpetrators.
“In supporting the Ghanaian investigation and prosecution, rather than seeking to prosecute Asola-Fadola in the UK, we have been able to work closely with international partners and help develop the techniques and understanding necessary to tackle this crime. The case has also demonstrated that this type of crime will not be tolerated by the Ghanaian authorities.
“Romance fraud is a particularly vicious form of mass market fraud because it targets not only a victims’ assets, but also abuses them emotionally, often leaving the victim embarrassed and traumatised as well as financially ruined. It took great strength for the victims to return to Ghana as witnesses for the prosecution, and they should feel proud of the vital role they have played in the conviction of this serial fraudster who would, in all likelihood, have targeted even more British women had he not been stopped”.
Research indicates that there may be as many as 200,000 victims of romance fraud every year in the UK alone. A conservative estimate of the combined loss to these individuals would be £100m every year.
To stay safe from romance frauds, individuals should always be cautious and guard their privacy, be suspicious if someone tries to draw them away from a dating website onto email or instant messaging, but most importantly, never send money to someone you haven’t met and can’t fully trust.
If you think you have been a victim of a romance fraud, or would like more information, contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or visit the Action Fraud website