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Cape Town - Four men and three women appeared in court on Thursday in connection with their alleged involvement in an online dating scam.
They appeared in the Bellville Specialised Commercial Crime Court, before magistrate Sabrina Sonnenberg, facing 77 counts of fraud and one framed in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (Poca).
Of the men, three are Nigerian nationals, and one a Ghanian. Two of the women are Nigerians, and the third a South African.
The four men were arrested in May last year in a room at the Lagoon Beach Hotel in the Cape Town suburb of Milnerton.
The charge sheet lists 21 alleged victims, all of whom were duped in online dating chats.
Prosecutor Juan Agulhas alleges the seven accused created false online dating profiles, and targeted vulnerable victims with whom they built up trust in a grooming process, and then requested money from them for “ostensibe emergencies”.
The charge sheet tells how one of the victims, an Australian woman, started chatting online with a fictitious man by the name of Donald Caine, who claimed to be a semi-retired petroleum engineering consultant based in Fiji.
Caine was looking for a buyer for an expensive painting that he inherited from his late father, and falsely informed the woman that the painting was about to be auctioned without his consent.
The victim then received a call from a woman claiming to be a Cape Town customs official, and said the painting had not been properly declared, and that Caine needed money urgently to pay customs duty, in order to get the painting to Sydney.
Caine promised to repay the money, but failed to do so.
The victim was duped by a call from a woman claiming to be Caine's sister, who said her brother had died and had left his estate, worth US6 million, to the victim.
Agulhas alleges the seven accused, acting in common purpose, used fake profiles including photographs and descriptions, in order to gain the trust of victims, and to take advantage of them.
The accused also allegedly falsely informed victims that the fictitious people were from exotic foreign countries and, once they had the trust of their victims, would request large sums of money for emergencies and other expenses.
Another victim got involved in online dating with a woman named Zuska, who claimed to own a painting worth R35 million.
At one stage, Zuska falsely informed him that she had been arrested by customs officials, and needed money to secure her release.
Agulhas alleges that the scam generally involved non-existent valuable paintings that could not be converted into money due to restrictions.
The seven were warned to appear in court again on August 27.