A widow who was swept off her feet by an online Romeo was devastated to discover the charismatic businessman who had stolen her heart was a con created by a gang of cruel fraudsters to dupe her out of £40,000 (about $48,000).
Happily married for nearly three decades, Di Pogson, 57, was heartbroken when her husband Ian, 60, who ran an electronics business with her, died suddenly in July 2014, just months before their 30th wedding anniversary.
As the storm of grief subsided, she began to yearn for a companion and in late 2016, she joined an online dating site.
Di PogsonPA Real Life/Collect
Drawn to the profile of a jet-setting businessman called Kevin Thompson, a fellow widower in his fifties based in London, she soon felt a real connection.
Believing he understood the pain of losing a cherished partner, as they exchanged messages and spoke on the phone, they grew closer until Di, of Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, genuinely believed she had found love.
But, once he had gained her trust, 'Kevin' began to ask her for money, fabricating all sorts of reasons from having a vet's bill to pay to being stuck abroad with an unusable debit card to wheedle cash from her.
Convinced he was genuine and would repay her, Di agreed – until his web of lies began to unravel with alarming consequences.
The police became involved – discovering that Kevin Thompson was a false profile, set up by a gang consisting of ringleaders Yaw Sarpong, 22, Nicholas Adade, 23 and Eric Ocansey, 35, and more peripheral members Obed Addo, 37, and Daniel Keh, 25.
Speaking out after the con artists were convicted for their crimes at Guildford Crown Court, Di now wants to raise awareness of dating scams to protect other vulnerable people from falling foul of them.
An example of a fake 'Kevin' profilePA Real Life/Collect/Surrey Police
“For a long time, I felt so stupid. I'm a grown woman – how on earth had I been conned like this? People may read this and think it would never happen to them, but until you've been in this situation, you don't know."
“But 'Kevin' truly led me to believe that he loved me, that we'd be together. I was in a vulnerable state then, having lost Ian, and I wanted and needed to be loved. Whenever I did start asking questions, he would turn it round on me and make me feel guilty. It was incredibly manipulative."
“I can't go back and undo anything though, and I refuse to let this eat me up, or they win all over again. Now, I just want to help other people and to warn them to be wary online."
Di, who is retired, was approaching her 30th wedding anniversary when Ian suddenly became unwell, developing difficulty walking.
He was taken to hospital and given a CT scan, which initially appeared fine – only for him to rapidly decline just hours later.
“He had the scan, and I saw him that evening. I left the hospital at about 7pm on 22 July and he seemed relatively fine. Then, my phone rang when I was back home at about 9pm. It was someone from the hospital telling me to come back."
“By the time I got there, Ian was dead. He'd died of an undetected embolism, which is when the arteries get blocked by something like a blood clot or air bubble."
“It was horrendous. The scan being fine had almost lulled me into a false sense of security."
In October 2016, Di began to think about companionship and how much she missed it.
“It wasn't necessarily about relationships. I just wanted a friend – someone to go for meals or to the cinema with."
So, she joined an online dating site and, before long, she came across the profile of Kevin Thompson, who presented himself as a well-to-do businessman.
“He wasn't what I'd call drop dead gorgeous, but he seemed like a nice, normal guy," she said.
“He told me he had a daughter, and that he had also been widowed when his wife died very suddenly."
Di PogsonPA Real Life/Collect
“I felt comfortable opening up to him and telling him about Ian, and the memories we had."
“He would tell me about all the places he'd been with his wife, and say he wanted to take me too. He sent me all these photos of him on holiday, and I even spoke to him on the phone. He was well-spoken and sounded completely normal – there was nothing to ring any alarm bells."
After a couple of weeks of talking, Di received a message from Kevin, claiming to have an emergency with his pet dog.
“He said he was stuck abroad and that his card wouldn't work, but that he needed £450 ($575) for an emergency vet's bill, as his dog was very sick."
“I'm an animal lover myself, and he made me feel so guilty. In the back of my mind, I thought, 'Would a vet really demand money up front like that?'"
“But he was so convincing, and every question I had, he came up with a plausible answer."
Convinced she was helping save the life of an innocent animal, Di transferred the cash.
And, before long, more requests came through, with Kevin telling various falsehoods, each time guilt tripping her into helping.
His sob stories included everything from being overseas on a business trip with a blocked card, to having to pay government taxes related to his business so he could fly back to the UK.
“Each time, the amount was around £1,000 ($1,200)," said Di.
“Before I ever spoke to Kevin, I'd had a couple of spam messages from people asking for money, and each time, I saw them coming a mile off. If only I'd been as astute this time, as I do look back and feel stupid that I fell for his con."
“He always had an answer, though, and he would play a lot on my guilt and self-doubt. If I questioned too much, I'd get, 'Why don't you trust me?' or 'You can't possibly love me if you aren't helping'."
“He made promise after promise to pay me back, too, and the way he had presented himself, he seemed like he would be able to. By the end, it felt like I had to keep giving over money if I ever wanted to see a penny of it back – almost like I had to keep him on side until we met in person."
Also, the picture Kevin painted of his glamorous life made it seem as if a few thousand pounds meant nothing to him – which Di found made it even harder to say no.
“He'd talk about his flash lifestyle, how he had a Ferrari and spent summers in Italy. He told me it was degrading that he even had to ask for money."
“He even said he had written me a check for £60,000 ($72,500), which is more than I lent him, to thank me."
Eric OcanseyPA Real Life/Collect/Surrey Police
As Di fell deeper and deeper under Kevin's manipulative spell, he also convinced her that he was in love with her, to the point where she genuinely believed they were in a trusting relationship.
“He led me to believe we'd be together and have this idyllic life. We'd talk on the phone and he'd say he loved hearing my voice, and would ask when my birthday was, so he could send a present."
“He even sent me flowers – some red roses – and would tell me he was going to get me a diamond ring. He said he loved me, and I said it back. Now, I don't think I did, but at the time, I genuinely believed I could."
Staying safe online with the DATES acronym
- Don't rush into an online relationship – get to know the person, not the profile. Ask plenty of questions.
- Analyse their profile – confirm the person's identity. Check the person is genuine by putting their name, profile pictures or any repeatedly-used phrases and the term 'dating scam' into your search engine.
- Talk to your friends and family - be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them.
- Evade scams - never send money or share your bank details with someone you've only met online, no matter what reason they give or how long you've been speaking to them.
- Stay on the dating site messenger service - don't use email, phone, social media or other messaging apps until you're confident the person is who they say they are.
But the illusion of romance and grandeur Kevin had created was swiftly shattered in December 2016, when Di came down to London, believing she was going to finally meet him in person.
In the weeks prior to this, nagging doubts had been mounting in her mind, but the idea of finally seeing him in the flesh – and the promise he would have a cheque for her – alleviated her suspicions.
The plan had been for him to meet her at her hotel near Marble Arch in the centre of the city – but he never came.
“He seemed really excited to meet me. He'd apparently been to China on business, and was flying in that day. He even asked me to meet him at the airport, so we'd have longer together."
“In the end, we agreed to meet at my hotel. I sat in the foyer, waiting and waiting, but he never came. It was horrendous, I felt like such an idiot. Eventually, I lost my temper and left an angry voicemail."
“I didn't hear back until the next morning. He said he'd been on a delayed flight then fallen asleep at home, but had to go straight back to China as something had gone wrong. He even turned the voicemail back on me, calling me heartless and saying he couldn't believe I would speak to him like that."
Nicholas AdadePA Real Life/Collect/Surrey Police
Di then asked if she could at least meet him to get the check he had promised – but yet again, he had an answer, claiming he was already back at the airport and didn't have it with him to post.
She did have his address, but he told her she wouldn't be able to get into the property to retrieve her money. By that point, there was no doubt in her mind that something was wrong.
What's more, she was in financial dire straits, having given him a staggering £40,000 ($48,000) – most of which came from a loan she had taken out, on his advice, to help ease her debts.
“Kevin knew about the loan – he was the one who suggested it, as I'd been struggling with maxed out credit cards and being overdrawn."
“He said it would be a way to clear all of that and keep myself afloat. But he took every penny."
Shortly after their doomed meeting, Kevin tried one more time to get money out of Di, telling her that once again he was stuck abroad, and would not be able to get home for Christmas.
“He said his daughter would be alone, and that I was abandoning him to spend Christmas by himself. By then, I knew something was wrong anyway – but there was also no money left to give. I couldn't have helped him if I'd wanted to."
Shockingly, as soon as Di told Kevin she didn't have a penny to give him, he disappeared, never to message her again.
But she was not prepared to let him get away with what he had done and reported him to police.
Officers then spent years tirelessly building their case, combing through messages, and eventually unmasking the gang behind the fake profile.
It emerged there was also another victim, who had been conned out of £200,000 ($242,000).
“One of the hardest parts was admitting to myself just how much they had taken," said Di.
“Going through the messages brought it all back – I felt so stupid. Now, I can see that they were written by different people. You can tell by spelling mistakes. But at the time, I was convinced I had found love."
During their investigations, police also found that the address Kevin had given to Di was false, registered to a complete stranger.
Finally, in July 2019, the gang appeared at Guildford Crown Court to answer for their crimes.
There, a jury found Yaw Sarpong, of Hampshire, guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation, and he was jailed for 15 months. His associates Nicholas Adade Adu, of Stoke on Trent, Staffs., and Eric Ocansey, of Birmingham, pleaded guilty to the same charge.
Obed AddoPA Real Life/Collect/Surrey Police
Adu was jailed for three years and seven months, while Ocansey was jailed for two years – both also receiving 14 months for money laundering, to run concurrently.
Obed Addo, from Roehampton, was jailed for 21 months for money laundering, while Daniel Keh, of Enfield, north west London, was jailed for 18 months for converting criminal property and supplying articles to be used in fraud, plus six months for money laundering to run concurrently.
Now, Di is looking ahead to rebuilding her life, and is happily in a new relationship after meeting her current partner, who she does not wish to name, online 18 months ago.
“I was wary to get back online, but I now know that if somebody is making excuses and putting off meeting you in person, it's not right. Either they are messing you around – or something more."
“I can't thank the police enough for their support. They've worked tirelessly behind the scenes to bring these people to justice. To anybody else out there with a suspicion, I would say report it – police can't help you if they don't know what's going on."
“Seeing the gang who did this in court was difficult, but I am refusing to let them win. Life is too short. Yes, I may not have the money I would have, but I'm getting by – and I'm happy, which is something you can't buy."
“It is important to be wary on the internet, and absolutely don't give anybody money, but there are happy stories too."
“I am in a great place with my partner now. After all these frogs, I have finally found my prince."
Di PogsonPA Real Life/Collect
Detective Constable Rebecca Mason of Surrey Police's Economic Crime Unit said:
“I want to pay tribute to the bravery of the two victims in coming forward and working with us to bring this case to court. They have been completely determined to get closure for themselves, but also to ensure that no one else suffers as much as they have at the hands of these heartless people."
“This type of crime plays mercilessly on personal emotions. These women have gone from the high excitement of being in love to the extreme low of realising they have been victims of crime and their trust and generosity has been completely abused. I can't emphasise enough, having got to know them throughout this case, that these are both intelligent, sensible women who were taken advantage of by a cunning, cruel, and highly manipulative gang of fraudsters."
“It is thanks to these women, these criminals are now behind bars and cannot hurt other people but if we can do one more positive thing – it is to spread the word on their behalf about how to stay safe when dating online. They don't want anyone else to be left as financially and emotionally devastated as they have been."
*A woman is being sentenced separately in connection to this crime on September 6.