Courts

Dating App 'Romance Scammer' Sentenced to Three Years

"Romance Scammers" often prey on the elderly and widowed who might lack internet savvy.
"Romance Scammers" often prey on the elderly and widowed who might lack internet savvy. Jericho / Wikimedia
A North Texas man was sentenced on Monday to more than three years in federal prison for his role in a scam that victimized many people to the tune of thousands of dollars each, according to Leigha Simonton, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Texas. Nigerian-born Emanuel Stanley Orji, 36, pleaded guilty in September 2022 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud; his brother, Frederick Orji, 38, was sentenced to the same amount of prison time in December 2022. A statement also says the elder Orji "has ties to a Nigerian organized crime syndicate."

In a scenario that reads like the summary of a Netflix true crime documentary series, Orji and his fellow conspirators sought their victims, often elderly individuals, on dating apps such as Match.com and Bumbledate.com while assuming fake names.

“Once they had ingratiated themselves with their victims, they concocted sob-stories about why they needed money – i.e., taxes to release an inheritance, essential overseas travel, crippling debt, etc.” the statement said. “And then siphoned money from victims’ accounts, tens of thousands of dollars at a time.”

The statement added: “In plea papers, Mr. Orji admitted that once he and his conspirators had depleted the victims’ accounts of all the funds they were willing and able to send, often emptying their entire savings, the defendants stopped communicating with the victims.”

Orji’s arrest in Sept. 2021 was a part of a large-scale operation led by the FBI that netted 35 indictments. At the time of the arrest, acting United States Attorney Prerak Shah said, “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.”

"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." - U.S. Attorney Prerak Shah

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Court filings note that Orji carried out his schemes in 2017 and that he targeted “older, often widowed or divorced individuals, with savings, as romantic interests.” In one instance, Orji and his co-conspirators deceived an online acquaintance from California out of $40,000 using the name “Wayne Power,” a man they described as someone who worked on an oil rig in Alaska.

According to the latest annual report from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, romance scams, or confidence fraud, targeted more than 24,000 victims, resulting in over $956 million in losses in 2021. The report also notes that many of the victims fall prey to “sextortion,” the threat to release private, intimate information and photos, and to pressure from the swindler to take part in investment opportunities, often involving cryptocurrency.

On Tuesday, Dallas-based Match Group announced new safety measures to help users of the company’s dating apps more easily detect romance scams.

“Starting today users across Tinder, Hinge, Match, Plenty of Fish, Meetic and OurTime will begin receiving messages alerting them to tips and common behaviors to watch out for to help identify potential scams,” the announcement states. “These tips were created with the help of law enforcement and financial exploitation experts.”

In addition to his prison sentence, Orji must pay $418,030 in restitution to his victims. Five more of Orji’s alleged co-conspirators are awaiting trial, currently set for March 20, 2023.
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Kelly Dearmore

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