Woman Scammed out of $500k Through Christian Dating Site
A Nigerian scam artist contacted the 66-year-old woman via the legitimate site. Wooing her with phone calls, text messages and flowers, the ersatz suitor eventually persuaded her to invest more than half a million dollars in his fictitious oil rig, Santa Clara County prosecutor Cherie Bourlard said Wednesday.
To come up with the money, the woman had to dip into her retirement account and refinance her house.
Bourlard, who works in the elder fraud unit, said her office was able to get part of the woman’s money back.
But she said the case should serve as a warning to others not to loan or invest money with anyone from a dating website. Older people are particularly vulnerable, she said, because “studies show the ability to make financial decisions is the first to be affected by aging.”
“It’s too easy to create a false identity or steal someone else’s identity and use it on an online dating site,” she said.
The scammer who swindled the woman claimed to be a citizen of the United Kingdom working on a Scottish oil rig. But his Skype account and email addresses were later traced to Nigeria.
The woman had turned over the money in increments, and in the last transaction, wired $200,000 to a Turkish bank account. After the victim and her son contacted the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, Bourlard with help from Investigator Tom Newland and senior paralegal Duane Shewaga asked the bank to freeze the funds.
The next day, a man named Wisdom Onokpite tried to withdraw the funds but was arrested and jailed. It turned out he was an associate of the suspect who had entered Turkey using a false passport, Bourlard said.
The bank wired the money back to the woman, but the suitor is still at large, free to troll other the web for victims.
“What’s a miracle about this,”she said, “is anyone got caught.””