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- US prosecutors charged 80 people in connection to an international romance scam, saying that a group, consisting mostly of Nigerians, defrauded businesses and vulnerable elderly women out of $6 million.
- Federal authorities said that 17 people have been arrested in the United States, including 14 in the Los Angeles area.
- All of them face charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to launder money, and aggravated identity theft, and some may face fraud ad money laundering charges.
- Now authorities now trying to track down other suspects in Nigeria and elsewhere. If they’re found, investigators told CNN they will work with respective governments to extradite them.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Three years ago, a Japanese woman was contacted by a man claiming to be US Army captain stationed on Syria.
They met through a website used for digital pen pals, and the friendship swiftly turned into an internet romance. Soon, the Army captain, who called himself Terry Garcia, started asking for money, according to federal documents seen by CNN. The woman obliged, and in total, sent Garcia $200,000.
But Garcia wasn’t real, prosecutors said. The identity was one of many run by an international online romance scam that a gang used to swindle people out of more than $6 million, federal authorities told CNN.
US prosecutors charged 80 people in the alleged scam, saying that the group, consisting mostly of Nigerians, defrauded businesses and vulnerable elderly women out of millions.
Federal authorities said that 17 people had been arrested in the United States, including 14 in the Los Angeles area.
All of them face charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to launder money, and aggravated identity theft, and some may face fraud and money laundering charges.
Now they’re now trying to track down others in Nigeria and elsewhere. If they’re found, investigators told CNN they’ll work with respective governments to extradite them.
“We believe this is one of the largest cases of its kind in US history,” US Attorney Nick Hanna told CNN.
The gang is accused not only of running romance scams, but also business scams where prosecutors say the group hacked into emails, impersonated employees, and directed payments back to themselves.
“In some cases, the victims thought they were communicating with US servicemen stationed overseas, when in fact, they were emailing with con men,” Hanna said. “Some of the victims in this case lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in this way.”
Romance scammers operate in organized gangs, working together to reach vulnerable men and women across the world in hopes of creating the facade of true romance to make their next dollar, according to the Better Business Bureau and separate research from the Agari Cyber Intelligence Division, an internet security company.
BBB investigations Steve Baker told Insider in February that many scammers use packages of scripted romantic emails to woo victims out of thousands of dollars. He said that professional internet scammers buy sets of scripts that last several months and direct them as to what to say when.
“These are organized gangs and there are international networks working together,” Baker told Insider. “There’s gotta be a guy who takes the money, a guy who write scripts, identifies contacts, sets up profiles, and tries to make initial contact.”
Last year, people reported losing $143 million to romance scams, according to the Federal Trade Commission, though many crimes go unreported because victims are ashamed of being swindled.
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