The scam was simple: create a fake personality on social media and social gaming apps, befriend an older woman on the website and convince the woman to wire money for some urgent financial need.
That’s the strategy seven Nigerian nationals living in Utah — six men and one woman — reportedly used to steal millions from older women for the past two years, according to an indictment from the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah.
Last week a federal grand jury charged the men and woman with three counts of mail fraud, one count of money laundering conspiracy and one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
Primarily targeting widowed women over 65 years old, the indictment states, “The defendants defrauded dozens of victims out of more than $6 million, which they laundered through accounts they controlled.”
Sometimes the men feigned romantic interest or friendship before pressuring women to send money to fake profiles of a European businessman or an American military official or an engineer working in Oman or a Swede under house arrest.
“After presenting the false financial need, the victims were provided with the defendants’ bank account information,” authorities confirmed. “Once the money was in the defendants’ accounts, they would transfer the money to each other and to overseas accounts, withdraw the money as cash, or use the money for personal expenses.”
One 75-year-old woman was contacted on social media by one of the men posing as a businessman living in Germany. The fabricated profile shared photos of industrial pipes and claimed he was involved in supplying sewer pipes in Turkey.
The profile then convinced the woman to send 10 checks totaling $275,000 and make five wire transfers worth $81,000 between April and May 2018.
Another 74-year-old woman thought she was communicating with a U.S. military general deployed overseas. The invented profile told the woman to send checks worth $140,150 to various locations, including a residence in Vineyard.
Dozens of other women from ages 52 to 76 were also tricked by the scam, according to federal officials.
“The indictment also alleges the defendants engaged in a series of subsequent transactions to disguise the origins of the funds and promote the operation of the conspiracy — often sending significant sums of money overseas,” authorities stated.
Charged in the indictment are Jeffersonking Anyanwu, 25; Daniel Negedu, 21; Onoriode Kenneth Adigbolo, 31; Chukwudi Kingsley Kalu, 28; and Godsent Nwanganga, 24; all Nigerians living in Orem. West Valley City Nigerian residents Richard Ukorebi, 38, and Adrianna Sotelo, 20, were also charged, along with David Maduagu, 27, a Nigerian living in Taylorsville.
If convicted, the men and woman could face 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or double the stolen amount of money for mail fraud. The penalty for the money laundering charges is 10 years in prison and the same fine.
Anyanwu, Negedu and Adigbolo pleaded not guilty to charges in May and will remain in custody until the resolution of the case. Ukorebi, Maduagu and Sotelo were also arrested and Nwanganga was incarcerated for unrelated charges.
Kalu remains at large, according to the indictment.
Salt Lake City Assistant U.S. Attorneys are prosecuting the case and FBI special and Postal Inspectors from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service also joined the investigation.