ILOILO CITY — Loida (not her real name) met “Stephen Desmond Nelson” in an online dating site in March last year.
Nelson told Loida that he was an American based in Chicago and was engaged in an oil-related business in Malaysia. The two continued their online liaison until the relationship turned romantic.
Nelson soon convinced Loida, a 52-year-old widow based on Guimaras Island, to partner in an expansion venture in the Philippines. The venture would require capitalization amounting to P500 million which he promised to deposit in Loida’s bank accounts.
Loida gave him details of her six bank accounts, including her automated teller machine cards, which had total deposits reaching about P10 million, mostly joint earnings with her deceased British husband.
When Loida checked the progress in the transfer of funds, Nelson told her to send P260,000 to Malaysia to cover processing and other expenses.
After two months and upon Loida’s prodding, Nelson told her he was having difficulties transferring the money and had hired an agency to facilitate the transaction. But he again asked Loida to send a total of P7 million to cover expenses.
This was repeated several times. In January, Loida discovered that her six bank accounts were almost empty.
Loida said she had sent about P20 million, through money transfer companies, to Nelson since they met in March last year. The amount did not include the P10 million that was withdrawn from her account.
She sold or pawned two vehicles, a resort, boarding houses in Mindanao and Metro Manila, and other properties so she could send money to Malaysia.
Realizing that she was duped, she sought the help of the National Bureau of Investigation in Western Visayas region.
NBI agents subsequently set three entrapment operations at a shopping mall here last week for five people supposedly sent by Nelson to receive another P8 million from Loida.
The NBI arrested Filipino Rosalyn Ibarra on Feb. 21. The second operation on Feb. 23 nabbed Malaysian nationals Sitti Faridah Binti Abdul Hamid and Ishamah Binti Sheck Dawood, and Nigerian national Francis Onyebuchi Amadi, Ibarra’s common-law husband. NBI agents also arrested Nigerian national Chukwudi Ugwu on Feb. 23.
They were detained at the NBI regional office here after a complaint for syndicated estafa in relation to the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (Republic Act No. 10175) was filed against them at the Iloilo City prosecutor’s office.
The NBI also believed that Nelson, whose online photo showed Caucasian features, was a Nigerian national based in Malaysia.
Nelson sent the five suspects to the Philippines to collect P8 million from Loida after money transfer companies refused to allow her to send more money because of the significant amount she had already sent.
“Their activities were compartmentalized. They were unaware that there were other persons sent to meet with Loida. That’s why they did not know that we already arrested them,” said NBI agent John Katipunan.
But Amadi and Ugwu denied the allegations.
“I came here to be with my wife. I did not know why she came here,” Amadi told the Inquirer at the NBI detention cell.
Ugwu said he was doing a favor to a fellow Nigerian who told him to get the money from Loida.
“I did not know that there was anything illegal with what I would be doing. Please help us,” he said.