Written by @saywooord
Two Nigerian men in Los Angeles ran an international online scam with the help of associates from their home country and other nations.
Beginning in March 2016, a man posing as a US Army captain stationed in Syria began a relationship with a Japanese woman on an international dating site for digital pen-pals, according to CNN.
Within weeks, the relationship grew into an internet romance with the two communicating daily. The man called himself, Terry Garcia, and often times asked his international lover for large amounts of money. Federal court documents state that over 10 months of communication, the woman identified as FK in the documents sent him a total of $200K, borrowing money from friends, ex-husband and other relatives to please her love interest. However, Garcia never existed, and instead, the man scammed this woman and many more for years.
Thursday, August 22, 2019, US prosecutors charged 80 people, mostly Nigerians, in the widespread conspiracy that defrauded at least $6 million from businesses and elderly women. According to the article, 17 of the people have been arrested in the U.S.; federal investigators are now trying to track down the rest of the bunch in Nigeria and other nations.
“We believe this is one of the largest cases of its kind in US history,” US Attorney Nick Hanna said in the article.
The entire romance was handled via email. Apparently, the man using the alias, “Garcia” told FK he was not able to communicate over the phone in Syria, according to federal authorities.
The requests for money began after he told her he found diamonds in Syria, in which he needed help smuggling out of the war-torn nation. Garcia claimed an injury and informed FK he could not smuggle the diamonds himself, instead, he introduced her to his associates who would then help facilitate the transfer. Court documents show one associate claimed to be a Red Cross diplomat who could get the diamonds shipped to FK.
Shortly after, another man claiming to work for a shipping company asked FK for more money to ensure the package would not be inspected at customs. More requests for money followed, with the scammers citing different reasons each time for why the package was then stuck at customs.
“FK estimates that she made 35 to 40 payments over the 10 months that she had a relationship with Garcia. During that time, the fraudster(s) emailed her as many as 10 to 15 times each day, and Garcia was asking her to make the payments, so she kept paying to accounts in Turkey, the UK, and the US,” as said in the federal criminal complaint.
FK is now angry and depressed over the loss of money, authorities said. “She began crying when discussing the way that these losses have affected her,” the criminal complaint stated.
However, the scams were not just limited to romance, officials stated. They included business schemes where they would hack escrow company email systems, pose as employees and direct payments that funnel money back to themselves.
According to the article, investigators detailed the intricate scam traced to two key suspects who oversaw the entire operations, transferring at least $6 million and attempted theft of an additional $40 million.
Once co-conspirators, based in Nigeria, the US and other countries, persuaded victims to send the money, two Nigerian men in Los Angeles coordinated the receipt of funds as said in the indictment. The two provided bank and money-service accounts that received the funds sent by victims, also running the extensive money-laundering network.
All defendants face charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to launder money, and aggravated identity theft; some will also face fraud and money laundering charges.