VULNERABLE women looking for love were duped by scammers who fleeced victims of £220,000 after targeting them on an internet dating site, a court heard.
Brooke Boston, Eberechi Ekpo, Monty Emu and Adewunmi Nusi are accused of conning unsuspecting victims after setting up a fake profile on Match.com.
Winchester Crown Court heard the victims thought they were contacting a middle aged man called James Richards.
In fact, the 12-strong jury was told, it was a fake profile that had been set up as part of a conspiracy.
In total the victims handed over £220,000.
In one case victim Suzanne Hardman was tricked into paying out £174,000, the court heard.
Boston, 28, of Common Lane, Titchfield, Ekpo, 26, of Adair Road, Southsea, Nusi, 37, of Bomford Close, Thatcham, Berkshire, and Emu, 28, of Frensham Road, Southsea, each deny money laundering between August 2012 and December 2013.
Boston and Ekpo also each deny committing fraud by false representation by using a false alias to create a fictitious profile on Match.com between March 2012 and February 2014.
Two other defendants, Emmanuel Oko, 29, of Waverley Grove, Southsea, who is married to Boston, and Chukwuka Ugwu, of Somers Road, Somers Town, Portsmouth, 28, have each admitted money laundering.
Oko has also admitted fraud by false representation.
They are due to be sentenced at a later date.
Prosecutor Simon Edwards said: ‘The operation of the conspiracy was fairly straightforward and its success depended on the trust and co-operation of the victims in this case.
‘It’s fair to say that by and large they [the victims] were financially vulnerable and also to an extent emotionally vulnerable.
‘The conspiracy exploited their emotional vulnerability to ensure financial reward for the conspiracy and those who were laundering the money.’
The court heard that after contact was made via Match.com, victims received lengthy ‘protestations of love’ and affectionate messages.
Part of one message read: ‘I knew our friendship would grow from the first day we spoke but neither one of us could imagine the love exploding, no thundering into our hearts.’
Mr Edwards said there is evidence that on some occasions the same email was sent to a number of recipients in what he described as a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
As the ‘relationships’ developed contact moved away from Match.com to personal emails and text messages, when requests for money started.
Mr Edwards said the alleged scam involved ‘James Richards’ saying he was due to inherit £100m following the death of his dad, but that the money was in a bank in India and he needed cash to help free it up.
The court heard victims were also given contact details for a Rod Thompson of Quality Solicitors and another solicitor.
Quality Solicitors is a real firm but the court heard Rod Thompson was fictitious.
On occasions when women handed over money they would receive certificates in return.
Some also received a copy of a passport purporting to belong to James Richards.
But the court heard the passport was fake, and read ‘Richards’ where the first name should have been and ‘James’ where the surname should have been.
Addressing the jury while opening the case, Mr Edwards added: ‘The demands, suggestions made by the conspirators ranged from £10,000 to £100,000 and you will hear, astonishingly, the last demand was honoured by a donor who lost in the region of £130,000 to the conspiracy.
‘The payments by the complainants ceased either when the demands ceased or the donors realised they were being defrauded.’