A 65-year-old woman facing ruin after sending her life savings to a dating site conman has been convicted of money laundering after she unwittingly passed cash to the scammer from other victims.
Sherroll Foster, from Uxbridge, west London, was spared jail after admitting the offence at Isleworth Crown Court on Monday, but was ordered to repay £3,500 to another victim.
She has already lost £65,000 and been plunged into debt after taking out an overdraft, personal loans and payday loans, and using credit cards to send money to a man in Ghana that she thought was her "soulmate".
In fact, the ruse was a scam by a gang targeting women over the age of 60 who use dating websites.
Detective Constable Mark Cresswell said: "This may not be a unique tale, but it most certainly should be treated as a cautionary one.
"These fraudsters target vulnerable people and exploit them not only financially, but emotionally, making their victims believe that true happiness is almost within reach and just a bank transfer away.
"Sherroll Foster was looking forward to a comfortable retirement prior to becoming involved with this scam. She now faces financial ruin and extensive, long term debt."
Foster met a man called Mark Hamilton on a dating website in 2012. He said he was a businessman who needed extra money to release £4 million in gold deposits in Ghana.
She began to send him money in February 2013, and over the next two years gave her life savings and any extra money she could borrow or scrape together.
The pensioner allowed other women, who she said she believed were Hamilton's friends also trying to help him, to pay money into her bank account, which she then passed on to the scammers in Ghana.
Conmen told two of the victims that Foster was their internet boyfriend's mother in order to get them to hand over money.
One sent £8,000 to Foster's bank account, while the other sent £19,000, before they realised that they were being fleeced and contacted fraud reporting service Action Fraud.
Later, a third victim paid another £3,500 into the account, and even though she was on bail for money laundering Foster paid the money to Ghana.
Mr Cresswell added: "If someone online that you have never met in person asks you for money it is highly likely that it is a scam.
"If you have already sent money, stop all contact immediately and report them to both the dating site and to Action Fraud. In most cases the money given under these circumstances cannot be recovered.
"Please don't give your bank details to people you don't know personally and never allow funds to be placed in your account for transferring on.
"This is money laundering and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years' imprisonment."