Elderly lonely hearts are a little bit safer today after authorities in Texas rounded up a gang of suspected fraudsters who had preyed upon vulnerable elderly victims using dating websites such as Match.com, ChristianMingle, JSwipe, and PlentyofFish.
The Northern District of Texas announced that it had arrested and charged 11 individuals who, it was claimed, had used fake names and sob stories to dupe their victims, siphoning tens of thousands of dollars from bank accounts.
Typically, the fraudsters would claim – after building an online relationship with their elderly victim – that they needed funds to pay taxes related to the release of an inheritance, or to pay for overseas travel, or to pay a crippling debt
According to a report by Catalin Cimpanu at The Record, the arrested individuals are all members of an international organised crime syndicate called Black Axe, which originated in Nigeria.
An Interpol report from last year explains that Black Axe gangs are often involved in prostitution, human and narcotics trafficking, and grand theft, as well as cybercrime.
The 11 alleged “Axemen” indicted by the Northern District of Texas are:
- David Animashaun, 38 – arrested in Dallas–Fort Worth, charged with wire fraud conspiracy
- Oluwalobamise Michael Moses, 40 – arrested in Dallas–Fort Worth, charged with wire fraud conspiracy
- Irabor Fatarr Musa, 51 – arrested in the Eastern District of Texas, charged by the Northern District of Texas with wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy
- Ijeoma Okoro, 31 – arrested in Dallas–Fort Worth,charged with wire fraud conspiracy fraud, money laundering conspiracy
- Chukwemeka Orji, 36 – arrested in Dallas–Fort Worth, charged with wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy
- Emanuel Stanley Orji, 35 – arrested in Dallas–Fort Worth, charged with wire fraud conspiracy
- Frederick Orji, 37 – arrested in Dallas, charged with wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy
- Uwadiale Esezobor, 36 – arrested in Lubbock, charged with mail & wire fraud conspiracy
- Victor Idowu, 36 – arrested in Los Angeles, charged with mail & wire fraud conspiracy
- Afeez Abiola Alao, 37 – charged with wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy
- Ambrose Sunday Ohide, 47 – charged with wire fraud conspiracy
“Crimes like these are especially despicable because they rely not only on victims’ lack of internet savvy, but also, their isolation, their loneliness, and sometimes their grief. As the victims open their hearts, the perpetrators open their wallets,” said Acting US Attorney Prerak Shah. “The only mistake these victims make is being generous to the wrong people.”
At the same time as Northern Texas unsealed the indictments against the alleged romance scammers, the Eastern District of Texas revealed indictments against 23 defendants (including one also charged by their colleagues in the north) for a variety of scams including Business Email Compromise (BEC) fraud.
The indictment alleges that the 23 individuals not only coordinated how to extract money from their victims, but also how to disguise, and launder the funds they stole.
It is alleged that US $17 million was obtained illegally by the gang from at least 100 individual victims, companies, and government entities.
The Eastern District of Texas names those arrested as:
- Kingsley Ita, aka “Baron” “Sifk,” 42, of Dallas
- Irabor Fatarr Musa, aka “Fatai” “Head JJ,” 51, of Richardson
- Solomon Esekheigbe, 48, of Katy
- Sandra Iribhogbe Popnen, aka “General,” 46, of Allen
- Edgal Iribhogbe, aka “Oseme,” 50, of Allen
- Damilola Kumapayi, aka “Luke Morris,” 33, of Dallas
- Ehiedu Onyeagwu, aka “Young,” 58, of Rosedale, Maryland
- Mathew Okpu, 57, of Temple Hille, Maryland
- Benedicta Atakare, 46, of Temple Hills, Maryland
- Segun Adeoye, 47, of Pearland
- Chidindu Okeke, aka “Steve,” 28, of Richmond
- Ngozi Okeke, 47, of Katy
- Nosoregbe Asemota, aka “Patrick Asemota,” 46, of Melissa
- Chigozi Ekwenugo, 53, of Grand Prairie
- Bukola Obaseki, 48, of Allen
- Stella Hadome, 43, of Allen
- Jequita Batchelor, 37, of Farmers Branch
- Osaretin Eghaghe, aka “Biggie,” 37, of Plano
- Ejiro Ohwovoriole, 29, of McKinney
- Isaac Asare, aka “Asarko,” 48, of Houston
- Gold Ude, 44, of Wylie
- Henrietha Oziegbe, 23, of Lexington, Kentucky
- Kingsly Oziegbe, 25, of Edinburg
If convicted, defendants face up to 20 years in a federal prison.
No-one is immune from being scammed – whether at work or at home. But vigilance and education can play their part in reducing the risk, and preventing the loss of potentially millions of dollars to convincing con artists.
And if you have an elderly relative or loved one who might be vulnerable to a romance scammer, be a good friend and make them aware of the fraudsters who lurk on dating sites and trick the unwary into handing over their hard-earned savings.