If you think you've had bad luck while trying to date online, at least you're not in New Jersey where a married couple is accused of swindling at least 33 people out of more than $6 million while using online dating and social media websites.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of New Jersey, Martins Friday Inalegwu, 31, and Steincy Mathieu, 24, are accused of masterminding the scheme that allegedly involved several co-conspirators who live in Nigeria and Turkey. The couple allegedly defrauded victims around the United States using email and phones as they pretended to strike up a romantic relationship with their victims.
Prosecutors say the couple would request money from their victims or associates for fictitious emergency needs. The couple would allegedly tell their victims they needed money for a variety of reasons, including needing to pay off customs fees and taxes, medical, travel, or business expenses. The couple reportedly catfished their victims using identities of people who did not exist.
"The conspirators made initial contact with victims through online dating and social media websites, corresponded with them via email and phone, pretended to strike up a romantic relationship with them," the U.S. attorney's office said.
"They requested the victims send money to them, or their associates, for fictitious emergency needs," including telling the victims that they had they needed the funds for medical expenses, traveling, taxes or business purposes.
"The individuals whom the victims believed they were speaking to did not exist, and instead they were speaking to the conspirators," the release states.
The victims would either wire the money directly to bank accounts for the couple, or mailed checks. One victim went so far as to empty her savings, liquidate her retirement account, take out a personal loan, max out her credit cards, and even borrowed money from friends and family to send to the scammer. The victim even embezzled money from her employer to send to the scammers. She was later charged and pleaded guilty to the embezzlement.
Prosecutors say the scam was able to dupe people into sending more $6 million to the conspirators, with a little more than half of that going directly to the couple. Inalegwu and Mathieu allegedly used the money they obtained for personal expenses and deposited in various bank accounts.
The couple is also accused of advertising properties online that were not owned or controlled by them. At least three people sent the couple money as part of that scam.
The couple face a charge of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. The offenses are punishable by a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
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