KTVU and Wires
SAN JOSE, Calif. — A San Jose woman bilked out of $500,000 by a Nigerian scam artist on a dating website luckily recovered $200,000 from a bank in Turkey, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office.
The case of the 66-year-old woman conned out of her money through a meeting on ChristianMingle.com should serve as a warning about fraud schemes on international dating sites, Deputy District Attorney Cherie Bourland said.
"You get the love drug in you and you end up getting duped," Bourland said.
The victim, a divorcee, joined ChristianMingle and befriended a Nigerian man who falsely claimed to be "David Holmes," an Irish citizen working on a Scottish oilrig, Bourland said.
He used a picture he said was of him but was actually an image of a male model he downloaded from the Internet, Bourland said.
"There had been phone calls," Bourland said. "He did not seem to have a Nigerian accent. He sent her flowers. But they never met in person."
The district attorney's office later discovered through the man's Skype account and email address that he was living in Nigeria, which is "a hot bed of online scams," Bourland said.
The scammer convinced the woman to wire him $300,000 as a loan for his oil business, with much of the money coming from her retirement account and funds she received after refinancing her home, prosecutors said.
That money was lost and but soon after she wired another $200,000 for him to a bank in Turkey, the woman contacted the district attorney's office.
Bourland emailed an adverse claim document to the Turkish bank in an attempt to freeze the funds, she said.
The bank the next day reported that when a man named Wisdom Onokpite, a Nigerian national, came in to withdraw the money, bank officials contacted Turkish National Police, who arrested him on suspicion of committing fraud, Bourland said.
"When we heard someone had been arrested, our mouths dropped," Bourland said. "It was exciting."
It turned out that Onokpite was an associate of the dating site conman who had sent him to Turkey to pick up the money for him. The Nigerian going as "David Holmes" remains free, Bourland said.
The victim has only a "1 percent" chance of recovering the remaining $300,000 from overseas because "it's just impossible to track down" and federal authorities do not get involved in losses below $1 million, Bourland said.
"The victim was extremely lucky to get her $200,000 back," she said.
The office has been getting similar reports from dating website victims and "usually it's too late, the money is already gone," she said.
Those using the sites are advised to never loan money to someone online, especially someone they have never met, Bourland said.