WASHINGTON, D.C.: Have you gotten an online dating message recently from Adeline Piper? How about Dickson Jones or Marlon Chase? The person on the other end may be a Nigerian scammer, the U.S. government said on Monday.
In a case that could spread to other states, six Nigerian nationals have been extradited to Mississippi to face charges that they helped run a nearly 15-year-long series of Internet scams. The rip-offs preyed upon Americans using online dating and work-at-home websites, among others.
In a nine-count federal indictment, the U.S. Justice Department said that since 2001, the group has committed several crimes, including mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud and identity theft. The case includes “romance-reshipping scams, fraudulent check scams, work-at-home scams and account takeovers.”
In one case from 2013, the defendants drained $34,950 from a brokerage account belonging to two of the victims and dropped the money into a bank account. Then they began withdrawing it with MoneyGrams and prepaid VISA cards, a few hundred dollars at a time, over the next several months.
In another case from 2011, the indictment said, the con artists opened a fraudulent AT&T wireless telephone account using the name of one victim, then bought two BlackBerry Torch smartphones with a credit card stolen from a second victim; then they shipped the phones to a third victim, with instructions on how to ship the devices to South Africa.
In many of the cases, the indictment said, victims believed they were shipping the items abroad for charitable purposes.
Officials said the six Nigerian nationals were extradited from South Africa, where they operated, to Gulfport, Miss., to face federal charges there. The Justice Department said the victims lived in Mississippi and were enticed to give up personal and financial data, in some cases, through fictitious online romantic relationships.
The suspects used, among other tools, the dating site Seniorpeoplemeet.com, the indictment said. The site calls itself a “community specially designed to cater to senior singles seeking mature dating.” It advertises that users can “meet senior singles in under 2 minutes.” Officials with the site didn’t immediately respond to an interview request.
Federal prosecutors have already won convictions for three others in the case; a half dozen are awaiting trial, while authorities are still trying to extradite three more suspects from Nigeria. Three more alleged scammers remain fugitives, the government said.
A Justice Department spokesperson said the investigation is ongoing and could expand to include charges in other states.