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Cape Town – Following the arrest of alleged leaders of a large transnational Nigerian syndicate called the Black Axe in early morning raids in Cape Town on Tuesday, a private investigator has shared how romance scams work.
John Alexander, a private investigator from Royal Investigations has for years been hired by victims to investigate these crimes. He said during the pandemic, the scammers upped their game.
“We noticed during the pandemic the romance scammers had to deviate from their usual ’script’ or storyline, they could no longer make victims believe that they are travelling for business, due to lockdown. However, we heard bizarre stories such as one who was claiming to be trapped on an oil rig and unable to set foot on land, claiming that their food supply had diminished and they are now paying as much as $300 for a loaf of bread. This was how their story evolved and how they managed to adapt to the pandemic,” he said.
Eight Nigerian nationals which include six leaders of the group aged between 33 to 52 were arrested for Internet scams, money laundering and international-wide scale financial fraud in Cape Town in a joint operation by the FBI, United States Secret Service(USSS), Interpol and with assistance from the Hawks Serious Commercial Crime Investigation Unit, Crime Intelligence(CI), K9, National Intervention Unit, Special Task Force (STF), Tactical Operations Management Section (Toms), Criminal Record Centre and Cape Town Metro police.
Hawks spokesperson Colonel Katlego Mogale said the FBI estimates that more than 100 people lost more than R100 million in romance scams from 2011 to date.
“They assumed fake names and trolled dating sites. Once they had ingratiated themselves with their victims, they allegedly concocted sob stories about why they needed money, taxes to release an inheritance, essential overseas travel, crippling debt, etcetera,” he said.
The group is believed to be behind hundreds of thousands of “romance scams”. These were allegedly carried out by members of the group who used dating sites to meet elderly men and women from around the world who were either widowed, single or divorced, then scam them out of their money.
According to a source close to the investigation, the group is also alleged to have scammed companies out of millions of rand using a business email compromise scam.
They are said to have been operating from the Table View area along the west coast, posing as wealthy pensioners looking for love. The group is also found in Italy and works with Italian mafia groups. South Africa is their favourite playground where they marry locals to obtain citizenship so they can travel to European countries easily.
“Elderly women, especially widowed or divorced are the prime suspects on dating sites, they are the vulnerable targets, there are victimology assessments done on their targets, intel-gathering and usually very complex screening to identify the perfect victim,” said Alexander.
“I must admit there are people finding true love on dating sites, however, they are few and far between. People should steer away from posting their whole life on social media. My advice for women would be to do their due diligence, the syndicate would usually declare their love for you within days, claiming to be prominent figures or employed in the engineering industry, within weeks after grooming their prey they would start their exploitations, better known as ”phase 2”. Women should be very careful and not part with any money, especially not to someone they have not met in person.”
The eight suspects are appearing in court today.