According to court documents, the Orjis and their co-defendants preyed on elderly victims, many of whom were widowed or divorced.
DALLAS — A romance scammer with ties to a Nigerian organized crime syndicate was sentenced Monday to more than three years in federal prison, according to U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Leigha Simonton.
Emanuel Stanley Orji, a 36-year-old from Nigeria, was charged alongside 10 co-conspirators in a large-scale operation led by the FBI in September 2021.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Dallas Field Office and Homeland Security Investigations’ Dallas Field Office were two of the agencies that led this investigation.
Orji pleaded guilty in September 2022 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and was sentenced Monday to 37 months in federal prison by Chief U.S. District Judge David Godbey, who also ordered him to pay $418,030 in restitution to his victims.
Orji’s brother, 38-year-old Frederick Orji, pleaded guilty to the same crimes and received the same sentence in December 2022.
According to court documents, the Orjis and their co-defendants preyed on elderly victims, many of whom were widowed or divorced. They assumed fake names and trolled dating sites like Match.com and Bumbledate.com, searching for targets.
Once they had ingratiated themselves with their victims, they came up with sob stories about why they needed money such as taxes to release an inheritance, essential overseas travel or crippling debt. The Orjis then siphoned money from the victims’ accounts, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars at a time.
In plea papers, Orji admitted once he and his conspirators had taken all the money from the victims’ accounts that they were able to send, often emptying entire savings, the defendants stopped communicating with the victims.
Five additional defendants are awaiting trial, which is set for March 20, 2023. They are presumed innocent until proven guilty in court.
Along with the two Dallas agencies, the IRS Criminal Investigation team also led the investigation with assistance from the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services, and the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mary Walters and Jenna Rudoff are prosecuting the case.
This issue comes on the heels of Match Group, the parent company of Tinder, Match, Hinge and Plenty of Fish, rolling out a global public awareness campaign to educate daters and consumers on how to date safer and help stay protected against the different forms of online fraud.
Starting Tuesday, 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.
Match Group, along with victim advocates and cyber crime investigators, developed the following tips to help users identify and help prevent and report malicious actors – on dating or any online platform.
- Stay on the app as long as possible: Scammers will attempt to get you on to another platform quickly which can be a common flag for these types of scams. Stay on the app when getting to know a new connection. If the match wants to move platforms but still does not want to meet up or video call it is a red flag.
- Use the tools available in app: Make sure to verify your profile with photo verification and also look out for the verification check on your matches to help confirm they are the person in their profile pictures. You can also set up video chats before meeting in person to confirm your match is the person you’ve been talking to. If your date can’t do any of these things, it’s a flag.
- They’re a 10 but a crypto expert: Hard pass. If a new love interest is giving you crypto or investment advice, there is a high probability that it’s a scam. Always report these interactions back to the platform where you met.
- The promise of a big return of investment or help secure financial future: According to experts, scammers will use techniques to focus on how a large sum of returns could improve your life or what you could do with this new money. Be skeptical of anyone who appears to be wealthy and successful and wants to teach you how to invest and make money.
- They may play on your heartstrings and appear to be desperate: Scammers often claim they need money for a Visa, customs fees, surgeries, family medical bills, car repairs or plane tickets to visit. If they appear desperate and money is involved, this should be a giant red flag.
- Scams can look different and constantly evolve. Keep your guard up and stay vigilant online scams have evolved as online platforms have become more accessible and gained popularity. Scammers can also play the long game and don’t just come out and ask for money when first getting to know someone. They often don’t start talking about finance until months later after they’ve gained your trust. As a rule, it’s best to never send or receive money via a wire transfer, money order, currency exchange, gift card or investment with someone you’ve never met in person. Not for any reason. Ever.
The FBI estimates that more than 20,000 people lost more than $600 million in romance scams in 2020 alone. For tips on how to protect yourselves and your loved ones, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s romance scam webpage. To report a suspected romance fraud, file a report via the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.