Dozens of members of a romance fraud scheme have been charged by US prosecutors in what is believed to be one of the largest cases of its kind in the country’s history.
The crime ring consisted of approximately 80 individuals, of which 17 have been arrested. The two leaders of the operation, both based in Southern California, were among those taken in.
All of the defendants are set to face charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to launder money and aggravated identity theft, and some will also be charged with fraud and money laundering.
Mainly targeting elderly women around the world, the scammers successfully obtained $6 million from victims and attempted to steal an additional $40 million.
The Independent reported that a woman in Japan sent a total of $200,000 to the group over a 10 month period in 2016. She believed she was talking to a US army captain who was attempting to smuggle diamonds out of Syria.
US Attorney Nick Hanna explained: “In some cases, the victims thought they were communicating with US servicemen stationed overseas, when in fact, they were emailing with conmen.
“Some of the victims in this case lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in this way.”
At the end of 2018, 43 people were detained in China for running a similar operation where approximately $2 million was moved.
A BBC docu-series is currently in production that will expose some of the techniques used by romance fraudsters. Producers hope to educate online daters about how they can avoid becoming victims themselves.
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