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warning: dating websites increasingly used for scams

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For Release on January 15, 2014

 

CONTACT:
Cherie Bourlard, Deputy District Attorney
Elder Fraud Unit
(408) 792-2519

WARNING: DATING WEBSITES INCREASINGLY BEING USED FOR SCAMS

The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office is warning that international scam artists are
increasingly using dating websites to defraud victims with investment or loan swindles.


In a matter recently investigated by the District Attorney's Elder Fraud Unit, an out-of-country
suspect befriended a 66-year-old San Jose divorcee on ChristianMingle.com and then conned her
out of more than $500,000. Much of the money came from the victim's retirement account and
was obtained by refinancing her home.

“Please don’t loan or invest money with anyone you have never met and only know from a
dating website,’’ prosecutor Cherie Bourlard said. “It’s too easy to create a false identity, or steal
someone else's identity, and use it on an online dating service.”

The suspect who swindled the San Jose woman claimed to be a U.K. citizen working on a
Scottish oil rig. After wooing her with phone calls, text messages, and sending her flowers, he
asked the victim to invest or loan him money to operate his business. In fact, the suspect had
created a fake picture of himself and a fake business website, even listing the victim as a
company official. The suitor's Skype account and email addresses were later traced to Nigeria.

In the last transaction, the victim wired $200,000 to a Turkish bank account at the suspect's
instructions. Upon discovering she had been defrauded, she contacted the Santa Clara County
District Attorney's Office. Deputy District Attorney Cherie Bourlard, with the assistance of DA
Investigator Tom Newland and Senior Paralegal Duane Shewaga, asked the bank to freeze these
funds. The next day when an associate of the suspect attempted to withdraw the funds, the bank
alerted the Turkish National Police. They arrested and jailed Wisdom Onokpite, a Nigerian
national, who was attempting to withdraw the money. It was later discovered that Onokpite had
entered Turkey using a false passport.

The victim's $200,000 was eventually restored to her account. Onokpite faces fraud and other
charges in Turkey.
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