Eight defendants charged on Valentine’s Day have now been indicted by a grand jury for conspiring to launder and for laundering the proceeds of online romance scams, the U.S. Department of Justice reports.
According to the indictment, individuals committing fraud created several profiles on online dating sites. They then contacted men and women throughout the United States with whom they cultivated a sense of affection, and often, romance, the Justice Department said.
After establishing relationships, perpetrators of the romance scams allegedly requested money, typically for investment or need-based reasons, and provided account information and directions for where money should be sent. In part, these accounts were controlled by the defendants, the Justice Department said.
Typical wire amounts ranged from $10,000 to more than $100,000 per wire.
The funds were not used for the purposes claimed by the perpetrators of the romance scams. Instead, the defendants conducted transactions designed to conceal, such as withdrawing cash, transferring funds to other accounts and purchasing assets and sending the assets overseas.
“According to the indictment, the defendants laundered the funds from a scheme to seduce victims throughout the United States using dating websites like Match.com and then defrauding them of millions of dollars,” U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman said in a statement March 6.
It is alleged that the individuals commonly used some the fraud proceeds to purchase salvaged vehicles sold online. The cars were commonly exported to Ghana.
Fictitious reasons for investment requests included gold, diamond, oil and gas pipeline opportunities in Africa. Websites used involve Match.com, ChristianMingle.com, BabyBoomerPeopleMeet.com, PlentyofFish.com, OurTime.com, EHarmony.com and Facebook, the Justice Department said.
At least 26 victims have been identified thus far.
Those charged include Kwabena M. Bonsu, Kwasi A. Oppong, Kwame Ansah, John Y. Amoah, Samuel Antwi, King Faisal Hamidu, Nkosiyoxoxo Msuthu and Cynthia Appiagyei, the Justice Department said.
In one example, a victim believed she was in a serious relationship with a person named “Frank Wilberg” whom she met on Match.com, the Justice Department said.
She believed they planned to marry and paid $3,000 to reserve a wedding site and had purchased a wedding gown and shoes.
“Wilberg” told the victim he owned a consulting firm that tested gold for purity and needed money to buy gold and gold contracts. He said he expected to profit $6 million and would repay her with the profits.
The victim wired money to accounts controlled by Amoah, Bonsu, Msuthu, and Appiagyei, and did not receive any money back, the Justice Department said.
In furtherance of the scheme, the co-conspirators allegedly created several companies, some of which were shell companies, to help attempt to hide the true nature of their proceeds, the department added.
Joining the Justice Department in the case were the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations.
“The defendants attempted to launder millions of dollars in proceeds earned from an online romance scam through a series of financial transactions intended to conceal their illegal activities,” said Ryan L. Korner, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation, Cincinnati field office.
The indictment was unsealed in Columbus, Ohio.