Wednesday, November 27, 2019
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A Rhode Island woman lost more than $660,000 as part of a countrywide online romance scam targeting the elderly, announced U.S. Attorney Aaron Weisman on Tuesday.
According to the U.S. Attorney, the woman, 76, refinanced her home, sold property she owned in Massachusetts, and withdrew funds from bank accounts, overtime sending the money to bank accounts allegedly controlled by members of the conspiracy.
As a result of the scam, the U.S. Attorney announced that five people, two from Houston, three from Atlanta, have been charged in U.S. District Court in Providence with allegedly taking part in online romance scams targeting elderly.
“It is unconscionable to prey on seniors. Scammers will confuse, lie to, and steal from their victims with total disregard for the financial and emotional ruins they leave behind. Elder abuse is a serious crime that impacts 10% of elder Americans each year. The Department of Justice and federal, state, and local law enforcement have made it a priority to root out such scammers and hold them accountable,” said Weisman.
According to the U.S. Attorney, the scammers robbed over two dozen people of over $2 million.
It is alleged in court documents that beginning in May 2015, victims were contacted by scammers via online dating sites such as Plenty of Fish, Christian Mingle, and Our Time, and through social media platforms such as Words with Friends, oftentimes feigning romantic intentions.
“When scammers pose online as legitimate romantic partners only to manipulate victims into giving away their life savings, it creates devastating financial impacts to victims, especially our older Americans. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is committed to protecting our citizens and working hard to seek prosecution of scammers who take advantage of our elders,” said Inspector in Charge Joseph W. Cronin of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Boston Division.
The perpetrators of the scams gained the trust of their victims through any number of fraudulent representations, eventually convincing them to send money to bank accounts controlled by members of the conspiracy.
To date, 28 individuals in more than a dozen states have been identified as falling victim to the scams allegedly employed by the five individuals named in the charged conspiracy.
The Arrests and Charges
According to the U.S. Attorney, on Monday, Wisdom Onyobeno, 39, of Sandy Springs, Georgia, was ordered to remain in federal custody and be returned to Rhode Island by Judge Lincoln Almond.
Onyobeno was arrested at his Georgia home on November 19, 2019, on a criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Rhode charging him with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud; conspiracy to commit money laundering; mail fraud; and wire fraud.
Also charged by way of criminal complaints with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud; conspiracy to commit money laundering; mail fraud; and wire fraud are Dominique Golden 28, and Sadae Mills, 24, of Houston, Breauna Williams, 25, of Atlanta, and Syretta Scherer, of Sandy Springs, GA.
Mills and Golden were charged by way of an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Providence on October 3, 2019, with conspiracy to commit mail fraud, nine counts of mail fraud, and six counts of wire fraud.
They were arraigned in U.S. District Court in Providence on October 30, 2019, and released on bond.
Syretta Scherer was arrested on November 19, 2019, and made an initial appearance in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. She was released on bond.
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