If you're looking to date a beau in France or find a bride in Costa Rica, prosecutors are warning against international scam artists who they say are increasingly using dating websites to defraud victims with investment or loan swindles.
The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Elder Fraud Unit on Wednesday recently highlighted one of its recent investigations, where a Nigerian man was arrested in Turkey for allegedly defrauding a San Jose divorcee, whom he met on ChristianMingle.com.
The suspect - identified as - Wisdom Onokpite - befriended a 66-year-old San Jose divorcee on the Christian website and then allegedly conned her out of more than $500,000. Much of the money came from her retirement account and was obtained by refinancing her home, according to Deputy District Attorney Cherie Bourlard.
“Don’t loan or invest money with anyone you have never met and only know from a dating website,’’ Bourlard said in a statement. “It’s too easy to create a false identity, or steal someone else's identity, and use it on an online dating service.”
Onokpite allegedly swindled the San Jose woman by claiming to be a British citizen working on a Scottish oil rig. After wooing her with phone calls, text messages, and sending her flowers, prosecutors said he asked the woman to invest or loan him money to operate his business, prosecutors said.
In fact, Onokpite had created a fake picture of himself and a fake business website, even listing the woman as a company official, Bourlard said. The suitor's Skype account and email addresses were later traced to Nigeria.
In the last transaction, the woman 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.
Bourlard, with the assistance of 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 Onokpite, a Nigerian national, who was attempting to withdraw the money. It was later discovered that Onokpite had entered Turkey using a false passport, prosecutors said.
Bourlard said the woman's $200,000 was eventually restored to her account, prosecutors said. Onokpite faces fraud and other charges in Turkey.