Jailed: Romance scammers conned dozens of victims out of £400,000 via dating sites

Fraudsters ‘love bombed’ victims, claiming they needed cash for funeral costs for a sick mother living abroad.

A female probation officer and her partner who targeted gay men on dating sites and scammed 80 victims out of more than £400,000 have been jailed for a total of 11 years.

Fredrick Diji, 37, and Raquel Johnson, 43, even conned one man for 14 years out of more than £100,000 in the elaborate 16-year romance fraud.

Lies Diji callously told his victims included that he was being held by Dutch customs while trying to return to the UK and that he needed money to be released from kidnappers.

He also claimed his mother was sick abroad, had then died and that he needed money to pay for funeral costs and help to get their inheritance.

Using fake profiles, Diji contacted singletons via chat messages and telephone calls, with victims believing they were talking to a genuine person.

Dating app logos are seen on a mobile phone screen. Photo: GettyDating app logos are seen on a mobile phone screen. Photo: Getty
Dating app logos are seen on a mobile phone screen. Photo: Getty

The fraudsters ‘love bombed’ their victims, claiming they needed cash for funeral costs for a sick mother who lived abroad.

Using a variety of fake personas, he targeted victims through online dating sites, such as Gaydar and Match.

The pair showed victims with attention and affection to gain their trust and would then ask them for money for a number of different made-up reasons.

In some cases, he even sent forged paperwork including death certificates, travel details and ID documents to back up his stories before pressuring victims to transfer him money.

These false documents were found on devices seized by police from the home in Camberwell, southeast London, shared by Diji and Johnson.

Diji’s fraud took place between January 2005 and April 2021 and police analysing online chats and emails on devices seized revealed a total of 80 victims of romance fraud.

One victim had been defrauded over a period of 14 years, during which they paid Diji more than £100,000.

Fredrick Diji. Photo: Surrey Police / SWNS.COMFredrick Diji. Photo: Surrey Police / SWNS.COM
Fredrick Diji. Photo: Surrey Police / SWNS.COM

Both defendants spent the money gained on personal living expenditures such as on takeaways, gym memberships, groceries, and private dental care.

Diji almost exclusively targeted gay men, although some victims believed they were speaking to a woman and many victims were older or suffered with poor health, police said.

Often he would promise he was due to inherit hundreds of thousands of pounds and needed a stop-gap loan until the funds came in, telling victims the money would be paid back.

By searching the pair’s phones, tablets and laptops after their arrest last April, police found 179 victims of fraud throughout the course of the investigation.

Out of those victims, 80 were linked to romance fraud, 22 to investment fraud and 77 had their identities or bank details stolen or shared.

Cops also found evidence of money laundering by tracing bank transfers between multiple accounts, which is common as fraudsters aim to make cash hard to trace, police said.

In total over £400,000 was found to have been laundered through their bank accounts.

The ‘Grindr’ app logo is seen amongst other dating apps on a mobile phone screen. Photo: GettyThe ‘Grindr’ app logo is seen amongst other dating apps on a mobile phone screen. Photo: Getty
The ‘Grindr’ app logo is seen amongst other dating apps on a mobile phone screen. Photo: Getty

At Guildford Crown Court on Friday (December 23), Diji was jailed for eight years, while Johnson was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison.

Johnson admitted to one count of money laundering as money taken from victims passed through her own bank account.

Diji pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud, concealing criminal property and possession of an identity document for improper means.

Sentencing the defendants, Judge Robert Fraser said Diji and Johnson carried out a "truly callous conspiracy of significant scale".

He added: “The harm you have caused has been devastating to so many.”

Jane Mitchell, from the Crown Prosecution Service, said after the hearing: “Romance fraud is a horrendous crime and the cost to individual victims goes well beyond financial loss.

“It is despicable that Diji targeted men either because of their sexuality, age or poor health in order to defraud them.”

Racquel Johnson. Photo: Surrey Police / SWNS.COMRacquel Johnson. Photo: Surrey Police / SWNS.COM
Racquel Johnson. Photo: Surrey Police / SWNS.COM

She added: “The victims in this case were looking for genuine love and companionship and Diji acted with greed and callousness to take advantage and emotionally manipulate them.

“Johnson was complicit and assisted Diji’s offending, laundering money he had fraudulently gained from victims through her own bank account.

“We will be pursuing the defendants’ criminal gains through the Proceeds of Crime Act.”

DC Becky Mason, who investigated the case, said: “Romance fraud is heartless and cowardly and has a devastating impact on victims.

“Not only financially but emotionally as they find their trust has been exploited in the cruellest of ways.

“It was the ultimate manipulation which preyed on people’s emotions and good nature.

“I am incredibly grateful to each of the victims for supporting our investigation and I hope that today’s result gives them some sense of justice.”

Officers worked with dating site Match, where Diji and Johnson accosted several victims.

A spokesperson said: “We are very sorry to hear about this case.

“The safety of our members is our highest priority. We have a dedicated team monitoring security 24/7, deploying industry-leading technology and human checks to ensure user safety.

“We encourage everyone to take the same precautions when meeting people online, as they would if they were meeting through friends or in a pub, bar or public space.

“It is always best to keep conversations on the Match site, messaging service or app, so that there is an accurate record and any concerns can be quickly reported.

“We also have a ‘report this profile’ function prominently positioned [and] we strive to create a safe and friendly environment for all users.

“Match has a zero-tolerance policy for reports of serious offences and encourages anyone who has felt exposed to unsafe behaviour whether through our services or anywhere else, to speak to the police.”

Anyone with information or who may be a victim of romance fraud can report it online or call the police on 101.

Or contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or via www.actionfraud.police.uk