A couple who tricked victims into sending hundreds of thousands of pounds in a romance fraud and laundered cash from others have been sentenced.

Ibrahim Moro, 33, from Bromley, and Rebecca Patrick, 32, from Croydon, targeted older and vulnerable victims on online dating sites before gaining their trust and asking for thousands of pounds.

NCA investigators found one victim, an elderly man from Australia, had believed he was in a relationship with Patrick.

The couple gained the trust of their victim, first asking for small amounts stating it would be used to buy Patrick warmer clothes for winter. The victim was then told Patrick was entitled to 78kg of gold in Ghana and had to pay for it to be released, but that when it was she would move to Australia and live with him.

The victim went on to transfer 250,000 Australian dollars, almost £138,000 at the time it was sent, to the fraudsters. He also sent Patrick a new phone and multiple other smaller amounts of money over a year-long period.

Moro and Patrick received hundreds of thousands of pounds more from a number of other victims which they laundered through their bank accounts.

Investigators recovered emails from one victim who believed they were in a romantic relationship with a man they met online but who didn’t actually exist.

By July 2016, she received a request for money and was later persuaded to send £18,000 after fraudsters told her they were having problems with insurance.

Another victim was tricked into sending money to a man she thought was a German widower living in Ascot, buying gold, silver and diamonds for clients. They started a friendship and although she never met him, she regarded him as ‘a close friend and confidant’.

In March 2016, she was told he was overseas and had bought some precious stones, but was unable to leave the country until he had paid taxes on them. The victim was asked to pay the amount and was told ‘if you don’t loan me the money, that means you don’t care about me’.

The victim said she felt under pressure and paid £2,500. The transfers were made to Patrick’s account with the full amount withdrawn in cash by the defendant days later.

Financial records also showed an American victim transferring more than £8,000 to Moro in April 2014. Moro transferred £5,500 out days later to two other accounts before withdrawing £1,400 in cash.

Hundreds of thousands of pounds taken from victims is also believed to have been sent straight to Moro’s bank accounts in Ghana.

NCA investigators were able to link Moro to the email account used to defraud the Australian victim and could also show that the addresses Moro and Patrick provided to their victims were the same addresses they gave to their banking providers.

Both defendants denied the offences, with Moro claiming the money that had gone into his account was from a clothing business he had set up in Ghana. Patrick claimed she had given Moro access to her accounts to send money to his family in Ghana.

They were convicted following a five day trial at Croydon Crown Court in November. Both were sentenced at the same court on 23 January. Moro was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison and Patrick received an 18-month prison sentence, suspended for 18-months.

The Judge also ordered all money restrained in the investigation to be returned to victims.

NCA Operations Manager Paul Boniface said: “These defendants exploited the vulnerability of their victims, selling them a relationship story they desperately wanted to believe. The Australian victim that Moro and Patrick so cruelly manipulated has sadly died before seeing these defendants sentenced.

“Romance fraud affects victims not only financially but also emotionally – many victims find it too painful to contemplate they have been scammed by someone they thought they could trust. Criminals may pretend to be a trusted person when they message but if something seems suspicious or unexpected, such as requests for money, listen to your doubts and do not send funds.”

If you believe you have been a victim of romance fraud, you should report it to Action Fraud by visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk or calling 0300 123 2040.

Reporting fraud means it will be passed to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau to investigate and help to prevent other people falling victim. In Scotland, report fraud directly to Police Scotland by calling 101.