Eight members of a Nigerian-based transnational organized criminal syndicate were apprehended by the Hawks and US law enforcement on October 19 in a major operation in Cape Town, South Africa.
Scammers from Cape Town, ranging in age from 33 to 52, were arrested and charged with money laundering and financial fraud on an international scale.
In addition to FBI and USSS investigators, Colonel Katlego Mogale of Hawks’ Serious Commercial Crime Investigation unit, Crime Intelligence (CI), K9 and the National Intervention unit, the operation also included members of the Special Task Force (STF), Tactical Operations Management Section (TOMS) and the Cape Town Metro Police, according to a statement released by Colonel Mogale of Hawks’ Tactical Operations Management Section.
When asked about the operation’s origin, Mogale stated it was started based on an agreement between the United States and South Africa for Mutual Legal Assistance.
She said all individuals were apprehended early on Tuesday morning during a large-scale operation and will be prosecuted with a range of financial offenses, including conspiracy to conduct wire/mail fraud/mail and money laundering.
A global organized criminal organization with roots in Nigeria is suspected of being behind the crimes, she added.
Those accused reportedly preyed on victims, many of whom were widows or divorcees who were duped into parting with their hard-earned money under the pretense of being in a real love relationship.
The accused found and communicated with their victims through social media and online dating services.
In addition to this, the suspects’ methods include email breach, in which email accounts are hijacked in order to alter bank account information. Instead of using their real identities, they used fictitious ones and went on several dating sites looking for love.
Mogale claims that after establishing rapport with their victims, the suspects fabricated elaborate tales about why they need money – taxes to release an inheritance, necessary foreign trip, crushing debt, etc. – before withdrawing R100 million from their victims’ bank accounts..
Victims’ relatives and friends were particularly affected, according to her. This organization’s target audience would include neighbors, parents, friends, and relatives.
“Using fear and threats, the con artists robbed their victims of all they had, then vanished. It is our firm belief that the findings of this inquiry will have far-reaching consequences for the whole area, “Mogale chimed in.
According to FBI estimates, over 100 individuals have lost over R100 million in romance scams since 2011.