Elderly men and women were the main targets of the romance scams operated by the fraudsters.
A United States Army Reservist has been sentenced to 46 months and ordered to and pay approximately US$1.8 million in restitution after he was found to be involved in a scheme to commit romance and business email compromise (BEC) scams against scores of victims across the whole United States, according to the United States’ Department of Justice (DoJ). The illicit profits from the scams were laundered to co-conspirators in Nigeria.
“Among the many victims of the internet scams facilitated by Joseph Asan Jr. were elderly women and men who were callously fooled into believing they were engaging online with potential romantic interests. This former serviceman and his co-defendant even laundered money stolen from a U.S. Marine Corps veteran’s organization in one of the conspiracy’s email spoofing schemes,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss.
From approximately February 2018 up until October 2019, Joseph Iorhemba Asan Jr. and his co-defendant Charles Ifeanyi Ogozy took part in a fraud scheme that mainly targeted elderly victims using romance scams. The members of the scam ring assumed fake identities and duped unwitting elderly women and men into believing that they were in a relationship with them and then proceeded to convince the victims into wiring them money under using various deceitful claims.
Beyond the romance scams, the members of the ring also engaged in business email compromise scams. Using spoofed email addresses or by gaining unauthorized access to them, the scammers masqueraded as employees of companies or third parties that had working relationships with the companies so they could persuade victims to transfer money to them under false pretenses.
To launder their ill-gotten gains the fraudsters opened up at least ten bank accounts in the names of bogus companies at eight banks. These were used to receive and transfer some US$1.8 million in funds defrauded from at least 69 identified victims to co-conspirators overseas.
Asan was also sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to forfeit US$ 184,723 and pay the victims US$$1,792,015 in restitution.
A costly and persistent problem
Both BEC and romance scams remain a perennial problem. Based on the FBI’s 2020 Internet Crime Report, BEC scams remain the costliest type of scam, with losses emanating from them reach a total of almost US$2 billion last year.
Meanwhile, losses from romance scams were also at a record-high in 2020, according to a report published by the United States’ Federal Trade Commission (FTC). “In 2020, reported losses to romance scams reached a record $304 million, up about 50% from 2019. For an individual, that meant a median dollar loss of $2,500. From 2016 to 2020, reported total dollar losses increased more than fourfold, and the number of reports nearly tripled,” said the FTC.