U.S. prosecutors have indicted 80 people on charges connected to a massive international fraud ring that allegedly attempted to defraud over US$40 million from businesses and people using online dating sites, particularly elderly women.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the scammers, most of whom are Nigerian nationals, are alleged to have stolen US$6 million through various online fraud schemes, targeting businesses with fraudulent emails and preying on people through online romance schemes.

“We believe this is one of the largest cases of its kind in U.S. history,” said attorney Nick Hanna.

The case involved 32 confirmed victims, many of which were elderly, in the U.S. and several other countries around the world. No Canadians have been confirmed to be victims.

Authorities have arrested 14 people across the U.S. in connection with the case, which the FBI began investigating in 2016. However, many of the accused are believed to be abroad.

In some cases the victims thought they were communicating with military members stationed overseas.

According to documents detailing the 252-count indictment, one woman was targeted by an alleged scammer who claimed to be a U.S. army captain stationed in Syria. She lost over US$200,000 in the scam.

In another instance, an 81-year-old Hawaiian woman handed overUS$750,000 to a man she thought was an oil rig worker in Belgium as part of the scam.

“We urge citizens to be aware of these sophisticated financial schemes to protect themselves or their businesses from becoming unsuspecting victims,” Paul Delacourt, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said in a release.

TwoNigerian citizens who resided in Los Angeles, have been identified by authorities as the so-called ring leaders of the alleged scheme.

They allegedly coordinated with a network of scammers who operated fraudulent bank accounts and laundered the money collected worldwide, keeping a cut for themselves.

Stolen funds were withdrawn as cash and fed through illicit money exchangers to move funds overseas, the indictment alleges.

Romance scams cost Canadians more than $22.5 million in 2018, surpassing all other forms of fraud in terms of money lost, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC).

According to the CAFC, online dating users should be wary if:

  • Someone you haven't met in person professes their love to you, or asks you to be in a long-distance relationship.
  • They claim to live nearby, but work overseas.
  • They try to set up an in-person meeting, but always have an excuse not to meet.