A criminal ring of Nigerian-based romance scammers has been using WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, and online dating sites to help them swindle funds from users.
On Wednesday, federal investigators charged 10 US-based suspects for helping Nigerian romance scammers launder funds amassed from their schemes, which pulled in as much as $546,000 from individual victims.
The romance scammers created fake profiles on online dating sites such as Match.com that said they were US residents working abroad. The scammers would then use email, text messages, WhatsApp, and Google Hangouts to build up a rapport with potential targets. Over time, they’d request small gifts, such as iTunes gift cards and cell phones.
“As the relationships continued, the requests would develop into increasingly larger sums of money, with the claimed purpose that the funds were needed to complete overseas projects or to return to the United States,” the Justice Department said. To further pressure their victims, the scammers would claim they had suffered a “financial crisis.” They’d also promise to repay the money, but in reality, never did.
According to the indictment, two unnamed US victims sent around $200,000 via bank transfer and mail to the scammers. A third US victim was swindled into handing over $546,000.
Victims were told to send the money to bank accounts and mailing addresses controlled by US-based money launderers, who worked to secretly funnel the stolen funds back to the Nigerian-based scammers. At least some of the money was used to buy luxury cars, including a Mercedes-Benz.
Federal investigators have apprehended seven of the 10 suspected money launderers charged in the indictment. Four of the arrested suspects were Nigerian citizens living in the US.