Prolific romance fraudster jailed as CPS issues a warning
A stark warning to the public about falling victim to romance fraud has been issued by the Crown Prosecution Service - a month before Valentine’s Day – as a fraudster is jailed for conning at least nine people.
People looking to form relationships are urged to take simple steps to help protect themselves, families and friends from romance frauds, with nearly £92 million having been reported lost in the UK in the last year.
People who strike up online relationships between Christmas and Valentine’s Day may be at particular risk of romance fraud, following a peak of 901 reports recorded by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) in March 2021.
Today (14 January 2021) saw the imprisonment of Osagie Aigbonohan for 2 years and 4 months. He was committing multiple romance frauds on behalf of an organised crime gang with links to the ‘Black Axe’ group. This was uncovered by the National Crime Agency and prosecuted by the CPS Specialist Fraud Division.
Aigbonohan was an illegal overstayer in this country who used a false identity to work as a school caretaker. Using his false identity, he arranged to meet women via internet dating websites and befriend them. As the relationship developed, at some point he would ask them for money, usually via pre-paid cards, on the pretext that they were helping him out of some unforeseen difficulties. The financial help would enable him to return to the UK and continue their relationship in person. In several cases, Aigbonohan claimed to be working overseas for a drilling company, that there had been a terrible accident which left people dead. He had run out of money paying for their funerals and now needed funds to hire new equipment, whilst he waited for an insurance payout.
Data extracted from the defendant’s phone showed that he received money from at least nine victims, including one who he continued to pursue after her death. It is not possible to provide a definitive sum for the total loss caused by Aigbonohan’s fraudulent activity. He had been in contact with over 200 people but some of the victims have not been identified. However, he obtained approximately £20,000 in total from four of the victims that have been identified.
The comprehensive investigative work of the NCA and the case brought by the CPS Specialist Fraud Division resulted in Aigbonohan pleading guilty to four related fraud charges.
James Lewis of the CPS said: “Romance fraud is a particularly callous offence, involving exploitation of an individual’s emotional needs and caring qualities, to extract money from them. People should be particularly vigilant over the coming month as we head towards Valentine’s Day and more people seek a partner.”
Mr Lewis added: “Aigbonohan demonstrated a cynical disregard for his victims, grooming them with romantic promises before dishonestly persuading them to provide him with financial assistance.
“Thanks to the extensive and thorough investigatory work of the National Crime Agency and the support of the individual victims, the CPS has brought an end to Aigbonohan’s fraudulent activities. Hopefully, this case will serve to act as a deterrent to other romance fraudsters who prey on victims in the same way.”
Dominic Mugan of the NCA said: “Aigbonohan had no regard for these women. He went to great lengths to gain their trust, fabricating stories to exploit them out of thousands.
“This is a typical pattern of romance fraudsters; they work to build rapport before making such requests. Romance fraud is a crime that affects victims emotionally and financially, and in some cases impacts their families.
“We want to encourage all those who think they’ve been a victim of romance fraud to not feel embarrassed or ashamed but rather report it.”
Anyone speaking to someone they do not know or have not been in contact with for a long time is urged to follow the ‘Take Five To Stop Fraud’ advice. Members of the public are encouraged to:
1. Stop and think before parting with your money or information in order to keep you safe;
2. Challenge whether the information or request you have received could be fake. It is ok to reject, refuse or ignore any requests as only criminals will try to rush or panic you;
3. Protect yourself by reporting any scams you think you have fallen for to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 and to your bank immediately.
The CPS is committed to working alongside the government and law enforcement to provide a multi-agency response to combat romance fraud. CPS prosecutors work to seek justice in a variety of cases including those that cause the greatest harm to the public especially vulnerable victims.
If you think you have been a victim of a romance scam, do not feel ashamed or embarrassed - you are not alone. Contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or online.
Notes to editors
- James Lewis is a Specialist Prosecutor for the CPS Specialist Fraud Division
- Dominic Mugan is the Operations Manager of the National Crime Agency
- The Specialist Fraud Division is a dedicated CPS team playing a leading role in the fight against serious and complex economic crime and the financial exploitation of the public, using specialist legal expertise to deliver justice
- The CPS Economic Crime Strategy is available on our website
- Osagie Aigbonohan (DOB: 21/08/80) pleaded guilty to four counts of fraud related offences and sentenced to 2 years and 4 months at Southwark Crown Court