OVER the past few months, citizens have been forced to stay at home, as the Public Health Ordinance has limited movement throughout the country, in a bid to fight Covid-19.
This has led to increased activities online, as criminals use the Internet to relax, socialise and even work.
Criminal elements have also taken to online platforms, using social media sites to defraud and con victims on the Internet.
Such operations came to the forefront with the arrest of a 48-year-old Nigerian national last week, who allegedly defrauded an 82-year-old woman of over $260,000. With his arrest, and the intelligence gathered during the operation, officers of the Fraud Squad believe they have made a major breakthrough, as it provided critical information on cases of a similar nature.
Steal your heart to steal your money
Insp Cornelius Samuel, who was speaking on Friday during a news conference at the Police Administration Building in Port of Spain, said that while cases of “romance/friendship” scams were low in Trinidad and Tobago when compared to other such fraud, it was still a serious issue.
“While during this Covid period, the TTPS (T&T Police Service) wants to encourage the public to wear face masks and to always sanitise, to fight against this disease; at the Fraud Squad, we also want the public to be safe online as well, and to protect their hard-earned money,” Samuel said.
Romance/friendship scams, he explained, were the type of fraud being experienced by those seeking a romantic partner or companionship through the use of online dating websites, or apps, on social media.
“The fraudsters involved in this type of fraud are experts at identifying and playing on emotional triggers with the end goal of getting you to part with your hard-earned money. They are trying to steal your heart, to steal your money,” Samuel said.
Things to look out for
Samuel warned there were some things citizens could look out for to avoid being scammed.
He noted that fraudsters usually made fake online profiles, pretending to have respectable jobs like doctors, or military officers, from all over the world.
“They then patiently work to gain your confidence and trust, sometimes over several weeks or months.
But once that confidence and trust is gained then the sympathetic stories come. A sudden medical situation involving themselves or family member which they cannot afford. Another typical ploy is they may claim they have sent a care package of gifts for you but they cannot afford the customs fees to clear it. By that time the victim may be emotionally invested and is willing to pay anything, and then the victim may be instructed to a bank account or sometimes bank accounts, and they enter a vicious cycle of sympathetic stories and requests for payments. By time the scam is recognised, the scammer has disappeared,” Samuel explained.
Nigerian national charged
Charleson Obasoanya, a Nigerian national who lived in El Socorro, was charged with larceny trick of sums totalling $128,500, and two counts of money laundering of sums totalling $48,000, when he appeared before Magistrate Adia Mohammed in the Port of Spain Magistrates’ Court last week.
In July 2019, the 82-year-old victim received foreign phone calls and messages from a man pretending to be her long-lost godson from the United Kingdom.
She then proceeded to make payments totalling $284,851.10 to various bank accounts, including $128,500 to a bank account held in the name of a business.
Staff at the bank took note of the deposits made by the woman and informed her she was possibly the victim of a scam.
Officers of the Fraud Squad conducted investigations into the matter and arrested a male suspect at a bank in Port of Spain on May 13 attempting to withdraw $50,000 from a business account into which the victim had deposited funds.
Obasoanya was charged by PC Ramsankar of the Fraud Squad on May 15.