A group of eight Nigerian men was hit with several fraud and conspiracy charges earlier this week, with the District of New Jersey’s U.S. Attorney’s Office alleging that the suspects were involved in internet and romance scams, money laundering, and other federal crimes. Several of the men were also accused of committing fraud for an entire decade.
All but one of the alleged conspirators were arrested on Tuesday, October 19, in South Africa and are expected to be extradited to the U.S. and answer the charges in a New Jersey federal court.
According to a release from the U.S. Department of Justice, the eight Nigerians facing charges include seven members of a South Africa-based organization called “Black Axe,” also known as the Cape Town Zone of Neo Black Movement of Africa.
Eight Nigerians charged with conspiring to engage in internet scams and money laundering from Cape Town, South Africa; Seven defendants are leaders of Cape Town Zone of Neo Black Movement of Africa, also known as “Black Axe” https://t.co/RaYgO8QxUk
— NJ US Attorney (@USAO_NJ) October 20, 2021
The men, whose ages range from 33 to 52, are now facing separate charge(s), including aggravated identity theft and wire fraud conspiracy. Many of their romance scam victims reportedly thought they had formed a romantic bond with them before being scammed out of their coins. They were allegedly coerced and sometimes even threatened into sending money over, according to the release.
The accused Nigerians are also believed to have used aliases in lieu of their actual names, frequenting online dating and social media websites to find and contact potential victims in America.
“Sometimes, when victims expressed hesitation in sending money, the conspirators used manipulative tactics to coerce the payments, including by threatening to distribute personally sensitive photographs of the victim,” the release detailed their alleged scam tactics. “The conspirators used the bank accounts of victims and individuals with U.S.-based financial accounts to transfer the money to South Africa. On certain occasions, the conspirators convinced victims to open financial accounts in the United States that the conspirators would then be permitted to use themselves,”
And while it can be easy to assume that it’d never happen to you or anyone you know, it’s actually a lot more common than many would think. According to the Federal Trade Commission, over 21,000 reports were documented concerning romance scams in 2018, with victims claiming a total loss of $143 million– a number that has been growing for years.
If convicted on money laundering and wire fraud conspiracy charges, the men could face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and could possibly owe thousands of dollars in fines.