A 78-year-old Virginia man suffering from dementia who was looking for love on a dating app was scammed out of $600,000 after falling victim to a pair of online con artist.
The unidentified man from Annandale had worked his entire life investigating fraud for the government, but fell victim to an age-old con himself, prosecutors said..
Over a span of two months, he sent $400,000 in cash and $200,000 in apple products to a woman who claimed she was a 30-year-old widow thrown into prison.
In total, he sent 53 packages of Apple products, which were to be used to raise money to ‘free the woman from jail,’ he was told.
However, the man was taken in by an extensive scam involving several Ghanian nationals, prosecutors said.
On Friday, two of the people who scammed the Annandale man were sentenced in federal court in Alexandria.
Ghanian nationals Linda Mbimadong, 29, and Richard Broni, 31, played relatively minor roles in the scam: Prosecutors describe them as ‘money mules’ who never made contact with the victim themselves but helped receive and launder the money in return for a five to ten percent cut of the proceeds.
He has since been diagnosed with dementia and is the latest victim in a growing trend known as romance fraud.
‘It did not matter when [he] revealed that his credit was ruined, that he could not afford to pay for medical insurance, his bills, or even his medications,’ the man’s son wrote.
He said the scammers ‘took advantage of an elderly man with declining physical and mental health, showing no remorse in trying to extract the maximum amount possible for him at every turn.’
Romance scams reached a record high in 2021, increasing by nearly 80 percent from 2020, according to a report from the Federal Trade Commission.
In the past five years, victims have lost more than $1.3 billion to such scams, the FTC said, more than any other category of fraud the agency tracks.
Ghanian nationals Richard Broni, 31, and Linda Mbimadong, 29, were involved in a plot to scam money from unsuspecting individuals online. Prosecutors described them as ‘money mules’ who never made contact with the victim themselves but helped receive and launder the money in return for a 5 to 10 percent cut of the proceeds
The man had created an account on a social network called iFlirt in an effort to find some companionship and made contact with someone who identified themselves as a widow in her 30s, who seemed interested.
The person sent him photos supposedly of herself that matched that description, but as the online relationship grew, the scam started to emerge.
The woman, who at first claimed to be from New York, said she was arrested while traveling to Germany to retrieve an inheritance of gold bars, and needed money to make bail.
Despite the bizarre circumstances, the man paid it, only to receive yet another message that she had been arrested a second time and needed even more cash to make bail.
A man Virginia created an account on a social network called iFlirt in an effort to find some companionship and made contact with someone who identifying themselves as a widowed woman in her 30s, who seemed interested – but it was all part of a scam
He told the scammers he was depressed and that he was considering suicide but the scammers continued to coerce him into sending more money.
They even convinced the man to use money from his IRA.
The couple, who were romantically involved themselves, worked with several unnamed co-conspirators to trick elderly victims online into sending them cashier’s checks, wires, and Apple products.
Mbimadong was jailed for 36 months while Broni was given a 19-month sentence.
‘I did not know a lot of what was going on,’ Mbimadong said to the judge in court. ‘I just looked the other way.’
She has agreed to pay $1.3 million to the victims. Broni will pay $87,000.
‘This was really an ageless, classic confidence game that has played out over modern social media,’ Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell Carlberg said in court.
The victim’s children contacted law enforcement in April 2020, starting the investigation that led to the convictions of Broni and Mbimadong.
Prosecutors estimate that the scheme targeted multiple victims and raked in more than $42 million, much of it going go Ghana, where the scam was headquartered.
Judge T.S. Ellis said the sentences for Mbimadong and Broni would have been higher but for their cooperation with authorities in identifying others involved in the romance scam.
Ahead of their court hearing, Mbimadong and Broni, who were living in New York City at the time of their arrest, apologized for their actions.
‘I have to express my ugly truth. I was selfish, ambitious and greedy for success,’ Mbimadong wrote.
Jessica Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, is prosecuting the Annandale man’s case. She said large numbers of romance scams go unreported because victims are embarrassed that they fell for tales like the one the defendants in this case spun, around widowed royalty and inheritances of gold bullion.
Richard Dorpe, pictured, a Ghanaian national, portrayed himself as a balding 57-year-old white man from Virginia Beach named ‘Jerry Linus’ on the ‘OurTime’ senior dating website. He conned a 68-year-old widow from Chesapeake out of more than $300,000, as well as items including clothes, a computer and jewelry. When she ran out of cash, she took out a home loan
But she said the scammers are sophisticated and patient in their approach, building rapport with targets over a matter of months before making their move.
‘These fraudsters know exactly how to play on people’s emotions,’ Aber said in an interview. ‘They use third parties to try to validate the stories that are being spun.’
Authorities take it seriously when complaints are made, Aber said; her office has prosecuted multiple cases of romance fraud in recent years.
Dorpe was sentenced to more than three years in prison last year by the federal court in Norfolk
Scammers are based both domestically and internationally, she said. Sometimes fraudsters spin exotic tales of international intrigue; other times, the approach is more mundane.
Richard Dorpe, a Ghanaian national, portrayed himself as a balding 57-year-old white man from Virginia Beach named ‘Jerry Linus’ on the ‘OurTime’ senior dating website.
He conned a 68-year-old widow from Chesapeake out of more than $300,000, as well as items including clothes, a computer and jewelry. When she ran out of cash, she took out a home equity loan.
Dorpe was sentenced to more than three years in prison last year by the federal court in Norfolk.
Aber encourages potential victims to contact law enforcement. She noted that the FBI has a website to report internet crimes, and does a good job of connecting the dots of disparate reports when they’re made.
‘The best thing you can do is to report it so you can potentially stop some other person from falling victim to this kind of scheme,’ she said.