The playbook read like a script on “How to run a romance scheme.”
There were fictitious names, pleas for help, conversations and eventually requests for money.
Federal authorities say a Massachusetts man used fake names on dating websites to lure women into sending him cash in what authorities described as a romance scheme that saw at least three women send him more than a half-a-million dollars.
Kofi Osei of Randolph was arrested Thursday and charged in Boston federal court with multiple counts of money laundering, making false statements to a bank and wire fraud.
“Over the course of the scheme, more than $1.7 million was transferred into accounts controlled by Osei,” federal prosecutors said in court records.
The romance schemes conducted by Osei began in 2016 and continued into 2019, authorities said. He used fake names on the dating websites eHarmony and Plenty of Fish and fake identifications to set up bank accounts, records said.
One woman, a resident of Jacksonville, Florida, said she was contacted by a man known to her as “William Karlsen” via eHarmony in December 2016.
The man was actually Osei, authorities said.
The man and woman chatted over the phone, text and through email. Then the man began to tell her he worked on an oil rig overseas. The demands for money began.
Osei, posing as the man, had arranged to meet the woman in Florida, but canceled the meeting after he said, “he was unable to travel because he was involved in an explosion on the oil rig and had been detained by authorities in Dubai,” federal records said.
Osei then asked for the woman to send money to pay for his attorney so he could be released.
In Feb. 2017, the woman sent $36,000 via wire transfer to a bank account controlled by Osei.
In a week, nearly all the money was gone, authorities said.
Then on Valentine’s Day of 2017, the same woman sent two wire transfers totaling $125,000 to one of the accounts controlled by Osei. Roughly $120,000 was gone within three days.
The first alleged victim had $201,000 taken by Osei, federal records said.
The second woman, who is from Montecito, California, was contacted in December 2017 by a man she knew as “William Woodcox” on the dating site called Plenty of Fish. The man was actually Osei, authorities said.
The two spoke by email and telephone.
In this ruse, Osei claimed that he was working in France when “there was an accident at his place of employment.” Osei, under the phony name, asked the woman to help people who were injured by sending cash. He then later told the woman he was arrested and needed money to get out of jail.
The second woman, between January 2018 and February 2018, sent $65,000 to bank accounts controlled by Osei, records said.
A third woman from Bradenton, Florida, met a man who called himself “Harry Mikesell” on Plenty of Fish in July 2018. Again, Osei followed his playbook of talking to the woman by email and text, federal prosecutors said.
This time Osei claimed he was a man working on a drilling platform in Houston, Texas. Osei wanted the woman to send money for drilling equipment and convinced the woman to become his “power of attorney” on his company’s bank account in the Bahamas, records said.
The woman agreed but then Osei, using his phony profile, told the woman his account had been frozen. He asked the woman to pay to unfreeze the account. The third woman sent roughly $270,565 to accounts controlled by Osei, according to an affidavit on file in court.
The FBI said earlier this month that Massachusetts residents lost more than $8 million in romance scams last year.
“Scammers use online dating apps & sites to build trusting relationships with victims & persuade them to send money or share personal and financial information,” FBI Boston said on Twitter. “Never send money to someone you have only met online.”
Across the U.S., victims lost about $605 million due to romance scams in 2020. In New England, victims lost about $11.7 million, with Massachusetts residents losing the most. There were 361 victims in the commonwealth.
If someone believes they are part of a scam, stop all contact immediately, the FBI said. If they have already sent money, report any transfer of funds to your financial institution and file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.