Online Romance Scam Targeted Senior Citizens

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BOSTON, MASS – A Lynn man was sentenced yesterday for his role in an online romance scam that robbed elder victims of more than $180,000.

Fortune Aikorogie, a/k/a Imuetinyan Aikorogie, a/k/a Fortune Aikoriogie, a/k/a Imuetinyan Aikoriogie, 33, was sentenced by U.S. Senior District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel to one year and one day in prison and three years of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay $66,767 in restitution to two victims and to forfeit $75,500. Aikorogie pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to a bank, five counts of money laundering and one count of visa and passport fraud. In March 2019, Aikorogie was charged by indictment.

Aikorogie, a naturalized citizen from Nigeria, served as a “catcher” in an online romance scam that robbed elder victims of more than $180,000. A catcher opens bank accounts using fake identity documents, quickly withdraws funds deposited by unwitting victims and transfers the money to co-conspirators. Aikorogie used counterfeit foreign passports to open bank accounts in fake identities, quickly withdrew funds wired into those accounts by duped victims, and transferred the money to others, including a Nigerian man he did not know whom he met at a mall, with the understanding that the money was going to Nigeria. At least some of Aikorogie’s victims were led to believe that their money was going to men who had wooed them online, professing their love and even going so far as to propose marriage.

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The victim, now 72 years of age, was a widow with advanced Parkinson’s disease. A fraudster contacted her over Facebook and began wooing her online and over the phone. He repeatedly told the victim that he loved her and said he had a son, whom he put on the phone to chat with the victim. The fraudster claimed to be a building engineer living in Florida and that he had been awarded a construction contract in Malaysia. After allegedly arriving in Malaysia, he began asking the victim for money for various reasons, including to pay foreign taxes, help with equipment repair, and to cover his hospital bills when he fell ill. This fraudster asked the victim to wire money to a bank account that Aikorogie had opened in the fake name of “Tinashi Chipo” using a counterfeit Zimbabwean passport sent to him by a man in Nigeria. From October to November 2016, the victim wired $55,000 into this account. Aikorogie promptly withdrew the money in cash and gave it to co-conspirators.

A second victim, now 79 years of age, was a divorced retiree who lived alone. Her only income was Social Security and a small pension. A fraudster contacted her over Facebook and began wooing her online and over the phone. He claimed to be a widower in Pennsylvania with a college-age daughter. He told the victim that he was traveling to Malaysia for work. After allegedly arriving in Malaysia, he began asking the victim for money for various reasons, including to help pay medical bills and taxes. The victim sent money using Western Union and MoneyGram. The fraudster told the victim that he needed additional money and persuaded her to sell her house, saying he would also sell his home and they would marry and buy a house together when he returned to the United States. The victim sold her house and, in December 2016, wired $20,500 of the proceeds to the “Tinashi Chipo” account opened by Aikorogie. Aikorogie promptly withdrew the money in cash and gave it to co-conspirators.

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Aikorogie used counterfeit foreign passports in fictitious names to open three additional bank accounts. Altogether, seven victims wired a total of $188,600 into Aikorogie’s accounts in just six months. Federal agents found five additional counterfeit passports in different names at Aikorogie’s apartment and the address where he received his mail.

United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling; William B. Gannon, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, Boston Field Office; and Lawrence Police Chief Roy P. Vasque made the announcement. Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Wichers of Lelling’s Criminal Division prosecuted the case.

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The Justice Department’s extensive and broad-based efforts to combat elder fraud seek to halt the billions of dollars senior lose to fraud schemes. The best method for prevention, however, is by sharing information about the various types of elder fraud schemes with relatives, friends, neighbors, and other seniors who can use that information to protect themselves.

If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is available at the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311). This hotline, managed by the Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crime, is staffed by experienced professionals who provide personalized support to callers by assessing the needs of the victim and identifying relevant next steps. Case managers will identify appropriate reporting agencies, provide information to callers to assist them in reporting, connect callers directly with appropriate agencies and provide resources and referrals, on a case-by-case basis. Reporting can help authorities identify those who commit fraud and reporting certain financial losses due to fraud as soon as possible can increase the likelihood of recovering losses. The hotline is staffed daily from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. eastern time. English, Spanish and other languages are available.