In an unprecedented joint operation, Hong Kong, Malaysian and Nigerian police have busted a syndicate running online romance scams which duped nearly 90 women out of HK$60 million, local officials said on Friday.
The transnational racket, based in Malaysia, had swindled 73 Hong Kong women out of HK$58 million since 2014, according to Hong Kong police. The gang also cheated 13 Malaysian women out of HK$2 million.
The biggest victim was a middle-aged professional from Hong Kong who was conned out of HK$9.1 million, according to Superintendent Lam Cheuk-ho of the cybersecurity and technology crime bureau.
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The woman became acquainted with the swindler through an online dating platform last summer, but nine months passed before she realised she had been duped and sought police help in April. It is understood her money was laundered through more than 10 bank accounts in Malaysia and Nigeria before police lost track of it.
The gang was allegedly headed by a pair of lovers – a Nigerian man, aged 36, and a Malaysian woman, 46. They were among 13 people nabbed in Malaysia last week during the joint operation. Hong Kong police officers went to Kuala Lumpur ahead of a series of raids between December 5 and 8.
[Police have carried out campaigns urging residents to watch out for telephone and online scammers. Photo: David Wong]
“Half of the core members were responsible for using computers to create fake identities, and searching for and contacting victims, while the other half handled crime proceeds and remitted the money out of Hong Kong and other countries,” Lam said.
Describing it as the “biggest and a sophisticated syndicate” that preyed on Hong Kong women, he said the gang also targeted victims in Europe, the United States and Australia.
Scammers typically disguised as “Caucasian” European or American men, claiming to be professionals in fields such as engineering, banking, business or the military, befriended victims online. It would usually take them at least one or two months to win the trust and sympathy of victims.
“Victims were told their so-called lovers would fly to Hong Kong to marry them and send wedding gifts and assets,” Lam said. “But they were then told the gifts and assets had been confiscated by local authorities and victims were asked for help to pay handling and administrative fees or a surety.”
Some victims were told their “lovers” had run into trouble and needed money urgently, among other excuses.
“Don’t trust sweet-talking people easily,” Chief Inspector Hui Yee-wai advised.
Two Nigerian citizens were sentenced Thursday to 36 months in federal prison and could face possible deportation for their participation in a $2 million romance scam that started on Facebook.
Kunle Mutiu Amoo, 49, and Lanre Sunday Adeoba, 62, were ordered to pay a little over $86,000 in restitution, after pleading guilty to one count of conspiring to commit wire fraud, according to U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson.
Amoo and Adeoba admitted their involvement in a scam that defrauded victims of money by making false promises or stating romantic overtures that the victims would be repaid.
The defendants pretended to be South African diplomats who needed the victim’s financial assistance to transport money into the United States. The two admitted in their guilty plea that they tried to defraud the victim of $506,000. The victim lost $2 million because of the scam.
Amoo and Adeoba will be in federal custody until they can be moved to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility at a later date.
U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett, who sentenced Amoo and Adeoba, said the two had abused a position of trust by pretending to be diplomats. He also noted the victim suffered severe financial hardship from their actions.
The woman was drawn into the scam after being drawn into an Internet relationship with a man she never met. The two Nigerian men posed as diplomats who were supposedly working with the man on a South African project, according to court documents.
Compared to other Internet-enabled crimes, romance scams result in the largest amount of financial loss among victims, according to the FBI. Victims of these scams, which are classified as confidence frauds, reported nearly $200 million worth of financial losses in 2015, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center
Lagos – Six U.S. citizens and a Nigerian national were sentenced Tuesday to federal prison for their roles in online fraud schemes that distributed more than $40 million in counterfeit checks using “mystery shopper” websites and work-from-home scams.
The criminal enterprise was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Funso Hassan, 27, of Ibadan, Nigeria and Anthony Shane Jeffers, 44, of Maryville, Tennessee, were each sentenced to 10 years in prison. Ann Louise Franzen, 70, of Kiln, Mississippi; Gary Melvin Barnard, 64, of Palestine, Texas; Michele Gayle Fee, 55, of Stockton, California; Tanya Lynn Thomas, 52, of Turlock, California; and Shawn Ann White, 44, of Manteca, California, were each sentenced to five years in prison.
In addition to the prison sentences, U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola, Jr., of the Southern District of Mississippi sentenced each defendant to three years supervised release following completeion of their sentences. Restitution to the victims for all defendants will be determined at a later date. The sentences are the maximum statutory penalty for the charges to which the defendants pleaded.
All seven defendants were members of a large-scale international financial fraud conspiracy that included romance scams through online dating sites, check fraud, secret shopper schemes and personal assistant work-from-home schemes.
Some of the defendants started as romance scam victims only later becoming knowing participants in the counterfeit check fraud. Victims were sent checks with mystery shopper and personal assistant instructions. The checks, which were counterfeit, would bounce after the victims transmited proceeds to various locations in the United States which were then layered for transmission to Nigeria.
Victims then owed their banks the amount of checks and often hundreds of dollars in bank fees