Scammers sent to the slammer for romance and secret shopping fraud

Online Fraud

Seven online fraudsters who duped victims out of their money through fake checks, online dating and mystery shopper scams have been sentenced.

On Wednesday, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the sentencing of seven defendants – one from Nigeria, and the rest from Mississippi, Texas, and California – for online fraud.

All of the defendants admitted to being part of a large-scale international financial fraud conspiracy in their plea agreements, according to the DOJ.

The gang ran romance scams through online dating sites, check fraud, bogus secret shopper schemes, and fake personal assistant work-from-home schemes.

Interestingly, some of the defendants actually got taken to the cleaners in romance scams themselves before they then willingly signed up to run counterfeit check fraud.

The crooks would send checks with mystery shopper and personal assistant instructions to their marks. Those were bum checks. The victims sent money to various locations in the US, which was then laundered before being sent on to Nigeria.

The checks, of course, bounced. This left the victims stuck with liability to their banks for the amount of the checks, and what were often hefty bank fees in the hundreds of dollars.

The convicted scammers and their sentences:

  • Funso Hassan, 27, of Ibadan, Nigeria, and Anthony Shane Jeffers, 44, of Maryville, Tennessee. They each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit identity theft and theft of government property and one count of use of mail and an interstate facility to distribute proceeds of a racketeering activity. They were each sentenced to 120 months in prison.
  • Ann Louise Franzen, 70, of Kiln, Mississippi; Gary Melvin Barnard, 64, of Palestine, Texas; Michele Gayle Fee, 55, of Stockton, California; Tanya Lynn Thomas, 52, of Turlock, California; and Shawn Ann White, 44, of Manteca, California. They all previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit identity theft and theft of government property and were all sentenced to 60 months in prison.

It doesn’t matter if you’re talking to a potential lovey-dove or somebody who’s promising to line your pockets: if they’re reaching out to you online, you don’t know where that hand’s coming from. So don’t touch!

Here are the tips we adapted from The Met with regards to a recent romance scam.

Slather your mental butterknife with this skepticism and spread liberally on anything else that sounds too good to be true!

  1. See through the sob stories.
    Con artists will tell you tales to pluck at your heartstrings, with a view to gaining your trust and sympathy. Sometimes they ask for money to help them through a difficult situation. These are lies to get you to send them money.
  2. Don’t be fooled by a photo.
    Justin Bieber probably doesn’t need to chat up strangers to get a date, so is that really the Biebster contacting you? Anyone can send a picture to support whatever story they’re spinning. Scammers often use the same story and send the same photo to multiple victims. You may be able to find evidence of the same scam posted on anti-fraud websites by other victims: here’s how to do a reverse image search on Google, for one.
  3. Keep your money in your bank account.
    Never send money abroad to somebody you’ve never met or don’t know well, no matter how strongly you feel about them. No one who loves you will ask you to hand over your life savings and get into debt for them.
  4. Question their questions.
    Suspects will pay you a lot of compliments and ask you a lot of questions about your life, yet tell you very little themselves beyond a few select tales. Never disclose your personal details, such as bank details, which leaves you vulnerable to fraud.
  5. Don’t keep quiet.
    It can be embarrassing to admit that you’ve been taken in, but not reporting this type of fraud plays right into fraudsters’ hands. Sometimes scammers ask you to keep your relationship secret, but that’s just a ruse to keep you from talking to someone who’ll realize you’re being scammed. If you think you’re being scammed, stop communicating with the fraudsters and report it to police immediately.