[A] 54-year-old woman from Poulton who stole more than £525,000 from her employers to send to a fictional soldier she befriended online has today (October 13) been jailed.
Pamela Wareing, of Brompton Road, was sentenced to close to three years in prison at Preston Crown Court having pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing.
Wareing, an employee at Easthams, a solicitors’ firm in Blackpool, was arrested in December after large sums of money disappeared from business accounts.
A Lancashire Police investigation revealed Wareing had met a man online in August.
The pair started talking, with the man introducing himself as ‘Eric Lopez’, a major in the United States of America Army.
Lopez claimed he wanted to visit Wareing in England but needed cash to be released early from a security contract in Dubai.
Lopez continued to contact Wareing, sending emails, text messages and messages online urging her to send him money.
The 54-year-old transferred some cash, initially in small amounts, before travelling to Dubai to meet with him. However, when she arrived, he did not appear and a sheikh, claiming to be associated to Lopez, met Wareing at a hotel where she handed him a five-figure sum.
Wareing returned to England and continued transferring her own cash to Lopez. She incurred significant debt and transferred in excess of £150,000 of her own money over to Lopez.
In October, officers, alerted to concerns by others, visited Wareing advising her she may be the victim of a scam. Wareing continued with the fictional relationship.
When Wareing had used all her own money, including loans, credit cards and savings, she turned to her employer’s accounts.
In December, police were alerted to claims money had gone missing from Easthams. Officers attended the solicitors’ firm on Church Street and identified Wareing had stolen the funds.
The police investigation revealed Wareing had taken a total of £526,473.40p from the accounts. The transactions started on November 4 and the last transaction was on December 19.
The money from the accounts was transferred to Wareing’s own personal account and then to a broker who allowed the cash to be exchanged to American dollars – the form in which the money was sent to ‘Lopez’.
Wareing admitted the thefts in January and after pleading guilty at court was jailed today for a total of two years and eight months.
Det Con Mark Riley, of Lancashire Police, said: “This has been a complex and at times challenging investigation which highlights the impact online fraud can have on not just one but two victims.
“Pamela Wareing, a woman who had worked for employer for more than 20 years, was duped by an internet fraudster into sending vast sums of money to a man she would never meet.
“She was taken in by their lies, first transferring small sums of her own money and then spending her own savings. She took out loans and used money on her credit card incurring significant debt before accessing accounts to send larger sums abroad.
“Wareing became convinced she would meet with ‘Lopez’ but it was clear this individual had no intention of doing so. I have no doubt Lopez is a fictitious person, a name made up by the whole team behind this elaborate scam.
“Wareing used her own money to fund the fraud, but once this had stopped she turned to her employers. She was selfish and did not think about the impact of her theft.
“Easthams trusted Wareing and she was held in high regard, but her thoughtless actions were to leave the company in a potentially perilous financial position close to Christmas.
“I have spoken with John Bower and Debra Hepplestall, who are the senior partners at Easthams. They are still concerned about the impact Wareing’s actions may have. I can state that there is no blame associated with the firm.
“This investigation demonstrates the dangers of online dating and the potential there is to become a victim of fraud.
“Many people use online dating sites as a way to meet people and form relationships.
“Most users of these sites are sincere and honest in the information they provide and in their reasons for joining. However, there are exceptions, as proven in this case, and you need to be aware of how to keep yourself, your bank account and savings protected.”
For more information, go to www.lancashire.police.uk/help-advice/online-safety