The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office is warning that international so-called "sweetheart scam" artists are increasingly using dating websites to defraud victims with investment or loan swindles.
In a matter recently investigated by the District Attorney's Elder Fraud Unit, an out-of-country suspect befriended a 66-year-old San Jose divorcee on ChristianMingle.com and then conned her out of more than $500,000.
Much of the money came from the victim's retirement account and was obtained by refinancing her home, the DA said in a news release.
“Please don’t loan or invest money with anyone you have never met and only know from a dating website,’’ prosecutor Cherie Bourlard said. “It’s too easy to create a false identity, or steal someone else's identity, and use it on an online dating service.”
The suspect who swindled the San Jose woman claimed to be a U.K. citizen working on a Scottish oil rig.
After wooing her with phone calls, text messages, and sending her flowers, he asked the victim to invest or loan him money to operate his business.
In fact, the suspect had created a fake picture of himself and a fake business website, even listing the victim as a company official. The suitor's Skype account and email addresses were later traced to Nigeria, according to the DA.
In the last transaction, the victim wired $200,000 to a Turkish bank account at the suspect's instructions.
Upon discovering she had been defrauded, she contacted the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office.
Deputy District Attorney Cherie Bourlard, with the assistance of DA Investigator Tom Newland and Senior Paralegal Duane Shewaga, asked the bank to freeze these funds.
The next day when an associate of the suspect attempted to withdraw the funds, the bank alerted the Turkish National Police.
They arrested and jailed Wisdom Onokpite, a Nigerian national, who was attempting to withdraw the money. It was later discovered that Onokpite had entered Turkey using a false passport.
The victim's $200,000 was eventually restored to her account. Onokpite faces fraud and other charges in Turkey.