Federal investigators with the Department of Justice say 35 people in North Texas are accused of conducting romance schemes to defraud and steal money from older adult Americans.
Officials with the U.S. Attorney's Northern and Eastern Districts of Texas and the FBI announced a multi-year investigation into a wide-ranging criminal enterprise operating out of North Texas.
Investigators announced indictments for criminal charges against 35 people accused of wire fraud and money laundering as part of a very sophisticated scheme that stole more than $17 million from more than 100 people nationwide.
According to court documents, these defendants allegedly preyed on older victims, many of whom were widowed or divorced. They assumed fake names and trolled dating sites like Match.com, ChistianMingle, JSwipe, and PlentyofFish, searching for targets.
Conspirators would pose as an interested partner and then build a level of trust with their target before eventually sharing a sob story that ended with them needing a large sum of money.
“Crimes like these are especially despicable because they rely not only on victims’ lack of internet savvy, but also, their isolation, their loneliness, and sometimes their grief,” acting U.S. Attorney Prerak Shah said at a press conference announcing the charges. “The only mistake these victims make is being generous to the wrong people.”
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In many cases, investigators said, the alleged thieves would then siphon thousands of dollars from their victim's bank accounts.
"Once they depleted the savings they vanished into thin air," said Shah.
Investigators said the funds are taken from the victims eventually made their way to accounts located in Africa and Asia.
Shah added that romance scams are often difficult to prosecute because victims are often embarrassed, feel duped, and don't want to come forward. Still, they encourage victims to come forward and reassure them that the scams are more common than one might think -- more than 20,000 people lost $600 million in romance scams in 2020.
Tips on Avoiding Romance Scams
- Be alert if someone is coming on too quickly or if they ask you to keep the relationship a secret.
- It should be a red flag if someone continually can't meet you and consistently cancels plans.
- Prospective partners shouldn't ask for your Social Security number or bank account info.
- Don't share login info to sensitive accounts.
- Do a reverse image search on photos to make sure a person isn't using photos found elsewhere on the internet.
- Think long and hard before you send money or gifts to someone you haven't met in person.
Older adults weren't the only ones targeted, federal investigators also said business owners and municipal governments were also targeted. Agents said the conspirators stole business funds intended for the purchase of or investment in assets and businesses not owned by conspirators and that they also filed unemployment insurance claims and were sent prepaid debit cards that were cashed and then distributed among members of the conspiracy.
Eleven of the arrests were made in the Northern District of Texas while 24 arrests were made in the Eastern District of Texas.
Those charged in the Northern District of Texas include:
- David Animashaun, 38 – arrested in DFW, charged with wire fraud conspiracy
- Oluwalobamise Michael Moses, 40 – arrested in DFW, charged with wire fraud conspiracy
- Irabor Fatarr Musa, 51 – arrested in the Eastern District of Texas, charged by the Northern District of Texas wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy
- Ijeoma Okoro, 31 – arrested in DFW, wire fraud conspiracy fraud, money laundering conspiracy
- Chukwemeka Orji, 36 – arrested in DFW, charged with wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy
- Emanuel Stanley Orji, 35 – arrested in DFW, charged with wire fraud conspiracy
- Frederick Orji, 37 – arrested in Dallas, charged with wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy
- Uwadiale Esezobor, 36 – arrested in Lubbock, charged with mail & wire fraud conspiracy
- Victor Idowu, 36 – arrested in Los Angeles, charged with mail & wire fraud conspiracy
- Afeez Abiola Alao, 37 – wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy
- Ambrose Sunday Ohide, 47 – wire fraud conspiracy
All of the defendants named are innocent until proven guilty. If convicted, the defendants face up 20 years in federal prison on the wire fraud conspiracy counts and up to 10 years in federal prison on the money laundering conspiracy counts.