In 2010, a documentary called Catfish gave a name to a disturbing new online trend. The documentary followed a young man in New York as he built a romantic relationship online with a woman…who didn’t exist.
The man was being “catfished” by a person that set up a fake profile. When you start a romantic relationship online, you run the risk of being “catfished” yourself.
Though the motivation behind “catfishing” ranges from personal insecurities to seeking revenge, there are some catfishers who are strictly in it for the money.
This is what happened to “FK,” a Japanese woman who fell victim to one of the largest international romance fraud and online scam cases in U.S. history. So far, 80 people have been charged for the attempted theft of $40 million.
The Nigerian Prince Changes His Story
FK met her catfish online, believing he was a member of the U.S. military based in Syria. The catfish told her his name was Terry Garcia and that he had discovered a bag of diamonds. He needed FK’s (monetary) help.
Over the course of their 10-month relationship, FK sent Garcia over $200,000. As you might suspect, the diamonds never got to FK. The diamonds never existed.
The character, “Terry Garcia,” was actually a scheme orchestrated by two Nigerian men based in Los Angeles. The men also had dozens of accomplices, some based in Los Angeles and many in their home country.
The online scam involving a supposed Nigerian prince asking for money has become a running joke for its ridiculousness, but this case is far from being funny.
In addition to “catfishing” women, the fraudsters hacked into business accounts and claimed to be vendors who needed compensation.
Online fraud schemes have become much more strategic, preying specifically on vulnerable women like FK and businesses with poor cyber-security.
The fraudsters involved in this case attempted to secure $40 million from its sum total victims. They were able to pocket $6 million before arrests were made.
What Happens Next?
So far, 17 people have been arrested and 80 more have been charged with being involved in this international fraud ring. Charges include conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to launder money, and aggravated identity theft.
Federal authorities are currently working to locate the other six dozen-plus people involved in this case, many of whom are believed to be in Nigeria. Since the fraud ring included crimes in the United States, Nigeria, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, those who are caught will face federal charges.
These crimes are taken very seriously in federal courts, especially when millions of dollars are involved. Identity theft charges alone could land someone in prison for up to 20 years.
Convicted offenders will also likely have to pay restitution. $6 million, even when split between 80 different fraudsters, is quite a hefty bill to pay.
Federal Authorities Are Looking for Catfishers
FK is only one case of catfishing, many of which leave its victims in financial ruin. The sharp rise in crimes like this is putting law enforcement officers on high alert. Federal authorities reported that in 2018, people were scammed out of $143 million due to “romance fraud.”
It’s not easy to identify the victims of these cases because often the shame and embarrassment of being duped are enough to keep people silent.
This is why when someone does come forward, authorities are wasting no time to make arrests and press charges, and alleged catfishers and romance fraudsters are more and more being prosecuted to the full extent of the law.