RICHMOND, Texas — A 52-year-old Richmond man has pleaded guilty to his role in a romance scam in which women from across the nation were cheated out of a total of about $1.6 million by someone often pretending to be a U.S. Army general, the US Attorney's Office for the District of Rhode Island announced Monday.
Fola Alabi, who is also known as Folayemi Alabi, 52, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Rhode Island last week to conspiracy and money laundering, federal prosecutors said in a statement.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The video above is from February 2022 report on how to avoid online romance scams.
According to prosecutors, someone often posing as a general stationed overseas befriended women online, then gradually gained their trust by feigning romantic or personal interest.
The women, often in their 70s and 80s and widowed or divorced, were persuaded to send cash or checks to addresses and companies controlled by Alabi, who lived in Richmond.
The money was then deposited into bank accounts he also controlled, prosecutors said, before being quickly withdrawn or transferred.
Federal agents who searched Alabi's cellphone found photographs and videos of packages containing cash and checks he had received from some victims, prosecutors said.
The victims were from Rhode Island, Tennessee, North Carolina, California, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Arizona, Texas, Idaho and South Dakota, authorities said.
An Arizona woman lost $334,000, according to an affidavit filed in the case. She “felt shame, embarrassment, and guilt over being scammed” and did not have enough money for food or to pay bills as a result, according to the affidavit.
A Rhode Island woman sent a check for $60,000 and was going to send an additional $240,000, but her bank determined that she might be a victim of fraud, put a hold on her account and contacted local police, authorities said.
Sentencing is scheduled for April 25.
How to spot a romance scam
- The con artists typically use a fake identity and operate on dating and social media sites.
- They often work quickly to build a relationship and even shower their unsuspecting victims with flowers and gifts to win their trust.
- A lot of these con artists appear to live lavish lifestyles to help convince the victim that they are wealthy.
- Some operate only online, while others wine and dine their victims in person.
- Eventually, they all ask for money. They'll tug on the victim's heartstrings by concocting stories about medical emergencies, business deals, or unexpected bills.
- Once they get the money, they vanish and begin hunting their next victim.
Romance scam red flags
- Beware if someone seems too perfect
- They quickly ask you to communicate directly
- If they promise to meet in person but come up with excuses to avoid it. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.
- If they try to isolate you from friends and family
- If they request explicit photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
- If someone you meet online needs your bank account information to deposit money, don't fall for it.
Tips to avoid becoming a victim of romance scams
- Be careful what you post and make it public online. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.
- Watch out for strangers who contact you on social media. They often create fake profiles with photos of someone else and try to win the victim over by pretending to be a single parent, widow or widower, or member of the military.
- Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere. If the profiles were recently created and the person doesn't have many posts or friends, they could be fake.
- Go slowly and ask lots of questions.
- NEVER send money, cryptocurrency, or gift cards to anyone you have only communicated with online or by phone even if you think you're madly in love.
- Finally, if you suspect an online relationship is a scam, stop all contact immediately and file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov. You can report scams whether or not you’ve lost money.