An online fraudster who mocked up images of bank statements to trick teenage girls into sending him intimate photos has been jailed for 30 months.
A National Crime Agency investigation found that Samuel Ward, 27, from Newmarket, Suffolk, approached victims on social media and offered to send large amounts of money in exchange for explicit images.
The investigation began with a report from a 17-year-old girl in Florida to U.S. law enforcement, who passed information onto the NCA.
She was contacted by two Instagram accounts in May 2020, offering a “weekly allowance” of $500 for sexual images and videos of her.
An additional message from one of the accounts said “well just to prove I have the funds”, and was accompanied by a doctored image of a bank account showing a balance of £98,606.80.
It then directed her to send increasingly explicit photos, but the user never revealed their true identity nor transferred any money to her.
NCA investigators identified Ward as the person controlling the two Instagram accounts, and discovered that he had proposed online ‘sugar daddy’ arrangements to a further 40 women and girls – 33 of whom were in the UK, with six in the U.S. and one in Ireland.
Many rejected the proposal, however officers identified 18 victims of his scam in total, including four aged under 18.
He approached multiple victims at a time on platforms including Instagram, Snapchat and Tinder from 2019 to 2021, employing the same method of offering money for explicit images and often sending them the same fake image of his account balance.
One 23-year-old victim was offered £3,000 by Ward in return for what he described as “non-explicit” images.
He mocked up an image of a transaction receipt showing £3,000 sent from his account to hers, and she began sending Ward the images and videos he requested.
However, upon checking her bank statement it displayed a payment for £3 sent by Ward. When she queried him on it, he replied, “3? I didn’t send 3, I sent £3,000”.
Another victim, aged 17 and known to Ward, reported to police that he had coerced and pressured her into sending a total of 57 indecent images between November 2019 and March 2020.
Chat logs on iMessage obtained by investigators revealed her nervousness to send the images, to which Ward responded with statements including, “I have needs” and “if u loved me u would have made some kind of effort”.
To counter her reluctance he offered £10,000 for ten photos. After sending him the images he demanded, she asked for the money and he sent her £1 to prove he would pay her, but never paid the full amount.
Following his arrest, NCA investigators reviewed Ward’s bank statements which showed he was in his overdraft for the entirety of his two-year offending period, and confirmed he had made the £3 and £1 payments.
Ward pleaded guilty to 19 charges in April 2023, including fraud, possession of an article for use in fraud, making indecent images of children and malicious communication.
He appeared at Peterborough Crown Court today [13 November] and a judge sentenced him to 30 months in prison and handed him a five-year Sexual Harm Prevention Order (SHPO).
Adam Priestley, NCA senior investigating officer, said: “Ward relentlessly targeted teenage girls and young women online with promises of payments he never intended on sending, nor had the means to do so.
“I would like to commend the victims who assisted our enquiries, including the 17-year-old from the U.S. who first reported Ward’s offending to the police. Her brave actions led to an international investigation that has seen Ward brought to justice, and identified many more victims of his abuse.
“At the NCA we are committed to catching offenders who pose a threat to vulnerable people in the UK, and this investigation shows how we work with partners around the world to tackle serious online criminality.
“We urge anyone who has been pressured or deceived into sending sexual images online to report it to the police. You are not alone, and there is always help available.”
The NCA’s CEOP Education programme supports parents, carers, children and professionals to ensure young people have safe and positive experiences online.
Anyone being pressured or threatened into sending sexual images or videos online should remove themselves immediately from the conversation, not respond further to any contact, and report the matter to police or a trusted adult.
There are a range of resources available online, at thinkuknow.co.uk, for adults – to support them in navigating the online world and conversations about it with their children, and children themselves – to help build their resilience online and learn what to do if something doesn’t seem right.
13 November 2023