ST. LOUIS – Federal agents have broken up a romance scam here in St. Louis, but not before it cost victims more than a half-million dollars.
Federal authorities at the Eagleton Courthouse in Downtown St. Louis said if you have fallen for a high-ranking military officer online, that officer may not be the gentleman he seems to be.
Three St. Louis-area residents have been indicted in an overseas romance scheme that targeted dozens of women across the United States. All three have ties to Nigeria. The suspects are identified as two men: Ovuoke Frank Ofikoro and Bonmene Sibe, and a woman Trenice Hassel.
Federal authorities say the three pulled off the scam last year and this year they pretended to be military officers looking for love.
The suspects allegedly claimed they were deployed overseas and used aliases and pictures stolen from online. They allegedly enticed women between the ages of 45 and 82 to send them money and electronic equipment to St. Louis-area post office boxes.
Investigators say the suspects actively searched dating sites and chat rooms looking for lonely victims to exploit.
“They spend hours honing their skills and they keep journals on their victims to better understand how to manipulate and exploit them,” said Special Agent-in-Charge Mark Dargis, the head of the National Security and Cyber programs for the FBI St. Louis field office. “They use well-rehearsed scripts that have been repeatedly and successfully to swindle people out of their money.”
Federal authorities say some of the money they stole was sent to Nigeria while other money was confiscated in the St. Louis area.
“These women believed that they were doing what they needed to be done to help United Nations diplomats assist their online romantic interests in returning to the United States from their overseas deployment, as well as to ship portfolios containing jewelry, cash, gold, and silver,” Assistant US Attorney Tracy Berry said.
The FBI says a family member from one of the victims contacted them because they were suspicious about decreases in bank accounts of their loved one and constant phone calls from area codes they did not recognize.