At least 10 men in multiple states were charged with using social media and online dating sites to coerce unsuspecting individuals — one residing in Oklahoma — into giving them thousands in cash as a part of an elaborate Nigerian romance money laundering scheme.
An unsealed federal indictment revealed that seven suspects were arrested by FBI agents in three states, with another five being taken into custody in Norman and two others in New York and California, respectively, according to U.S. Attorney Trent Shores. Three other suspects involved in what was described as a conspiracy remain at-large.
“The defendants enriched themselves and their cohorts by preying on vulnerable victims hoping to find love and companionship online,” said Shores during a news conference Wednesday in Tulsa.
Though many of the victims targeted were seniors, authorities affirmed that anyone could fall prey to the deception.
“Everyone is vulnerable to phone and internet scams, but seeing a romance scam and money laundering conspiracy that resulted in the exploitation of elderly Americans is just shameful,” Shores said. “U.S. attorneys across the nation are working diligently to empower victims of fraud to speak out so that online scammers can be brought to justice.”
Charged were Afeez Olajude Adebara, 34; Chibuzo Obiefuna Jr., 26; Jamiu Ibukun Adedeji, 23; Tobiloba Kehinde, 27; Oluwasenu John Ogundele, 30; Joshua Nnandom Ditep, 25; Paul Usoro, 25; and three others who have yet to be identified.
The indictment alleges that since 2017, the suspects concealed proceeds of the operations by moving money between multiple bank accounts that were opened using fake identification documents to hide the source of the transfers and identities of those involved.
Investigators identified at least three victims of the scams living in Seminole, Florida; Centerville, Ohio; and a woman in Pryor.
The victims, said Shores, lost in excess of $1.5 million as a result of the scam.
“Sadly, experience tells us that these victims will never see their money again,” he said.
Investigators said the victims and defendants never met in person and only communicated on online platforms.
The scheme itself followed a pattern where defendants would pose as American citizens and request victims gift them relatively inexpensive items such as gift cards and cell phones before expressing that they required larger sums of money to cover travel or work expenses as the relationships progressed.
In one instance, a victim made a $50,000 transaction to a defendant under the impression the money would be paid back. But once the scammers received the money, it was then distributed to friends and associates with assurance it would be used as intended.
However, the defendants allegedly used the money to purchase “salvage vehicles and car parts to export them overseas, typically to Nigeria,” according to the indictment.
Authorities urge anyone who might have been victimized by such online scams to contact the FBI’s Internet Complaint Center at ic3.gov to file an official complaint.