A married South Jersey couple with two children bilked more than two dozen victims out of close to six million dollars in an international romance scam that used fake profiles on dating sites, federal prosecutors announced.
Martins Friday Inalegwu, 31, and Steincy Mathieu, 24, both of Maple Shade, New Jersey, were charged with conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. The couple and their co-conspirators, including several people who live in Nigeria, operated from October 2016 through last month, prosecutors said.
The Feds identified more than 33 victims who sent more than $6 million overall to the conspirators, including one victim who embezzled $3.1 million to send directly to Inalegwu and Mathieu. According to prosecutors, the NJ couple spent the money on personal expenses and transferred money to other bank accounts they controlled, moving funds to bank accounts held by co-conspirators in Nigeria and Turkey.
The co-conspirators made initial contact with victims through online dating and social media websites such as eHarmony, Match.com and Plenty of Fish and then corresponded with them via email and phone, authorities said. Using fake identities they pretended to strike up a romantic relationship with them and then asked the victims to send money to them, or their associates, for fictitious emergency needs.
In addition to the romance scam, the couple and their co-conspirators are also accused of running an apartment rental scam where they defrauded people by advertising properties they didn’t own and collecting application fees and security deposits on those properties, authorities said.