WESTERLY — A Groton man is facing charges after the police said he used an online dating site to blackmail a Massachusetts man into sending him regular payments through Walmart, threatening legal action against the man if he did not keep paying.
Westerly police charged the man, 24-year-old Riley Sorrento with extortion and blackmail last week after obtaining an arrest warrant. He was later released on bond, the police indicated, and was expected to appear for arraignment in Fourth Division District Court later this month.
Police Chief Shawn Lacey said Sorrento was taken into custody following an investigation that began on May 13 when the victim, a 41-year-old man from Ayer, Mass., arrived at the Westerly Police Department with a private detective in order to file a complaint regarding a possible extortion scam.
“The victim relayed to us that he believed he was being scammed by an area resident who had him make regular payments through Walmart by using a wire transfer service,” Lacey said. “It began with what he believed to be an appropriate dating relationship online and soon, he was contacted by Mr. Sorrento, who began to demand money.”
According to a police report, the victim had met a woman through the social networking website Badoo.com, a site typically used for online dating. The police said the victim began talking with a woman in December, who the police said he believed to be in her mid to late 20’s, and the two began sharing personal photographs with one another.
On Dec. 21, the police said a “Mr. Sorrento,” called the victim on his cell phone and told the victim that he had been sharing pictures with Sorrento’s 16-year-old daughter. Sorrento told the victim that his daughter was “troubled,” the police said, and told the man that he would overlook the “illegal relationship” if the man paid him $2,500 to send his daughter to boarding school.
The police said further investigation revealed that the images shared with the victim were not his daughter — Sorrento is not old enough to have a 16-year-old child, the police noted — and that although Sorrento would not identify the woman, it was determined that she was in fact in her 20’s.
Sorrento told the victim to send all payments to the Westerly Walmart, where many were later picked up by Sorrento. The police said the transactions were caught of surveillance camera and provided by Walmart upon request.
The police said the victim made payments in December before Sorrento called back and told him that he would need an additional $2,500. A third effort was made in late February, the police said, but the victim realized something was wrong in April when Sorrento indicated the money was still needed for his daughter’s schooling, even though schools had been closed due to the COVID-19 virus. He was able to cancel the last two transactions, the police said.
In all, the victim lost $6,372 in payments and fees as a result of the extortion.
Lacey said that unfortunately this is one of several similar cases reported to police recently. Over the past month or so, he said the department has received about “one case per week,” usually involving a threat of sharing personal photographs if money is not paid, or in making false accusations regarding inappropriate relationships.
To avoid falling victim, Lacey urged local residents to always verify the identity of those they meet online and to never share photographs or images they would not want released to the public. He said regardless of circumstances, however, anyone who feels they are being wrongly extorted should contact police immediately.
“These scams, they aren’t looking to share the pics. They want money and our advice is don’t give it to them,” Lacey said. “We want people to know, this is what we are here for. Many are too embarrassed to come forward, but we are not here to judge and that’s the best way to address the issue.”