Rip-Off Alert: 'Sweetheart Scam' costs St. Louis mom back in dating scene $12K
LAS VEGAS (KSNV News3LV) —
They think they are communicating with honest men who want a new relationship. Instead, thousands of women are being lured into so-called "Sweetheart Scams."
In this case, a man posed as a member of the military. More than 100 women fell for his story online. It ended up being a lot of lost love — and lost money.
After a difficult divorce, fraud victim Angela Knuckles received some ill-fated advice.
“I was starting a new beginning and stuff,” she said, “and my daughter was like, ‘Mom, why don't you get on My Space?’”
Knuckles decided to fill out a profile and met a man who said he was in the military.
"He was very interested in like knowing about my daughter, about my life," she said.
He sent her pictures talking about his job and family and asked if they could start communicating through email instead of the dating site. She happily accepted.
"He called like all the time,” Knuckles said. “He sent cards, flowers, chocolates. It was just like a dream come true."
He then asked if she could send him some money because his reimbursements from the government were delayed.
"And that he was going to get put out of the hotel that he was staying at," she said.
In all, the St. Louis mother sent $12,000 before she realized it was a scam.
Postal inspectors say Illumsa Sunmola — who lived in Nigeria — stole $1.7 million from 100 victims by stealing social media pictures and posing as someone else.
Because he was in Africa, these cases can be a challenge to investigate. But then investigators got a break when Sunmola traveled to London.
“They actually arrested him as he was boarding a plane back to Johannesburg,” said U.S. Postal Inspector Adam Latham.
The lesson in this case is clear — communicating with people online has risks, especially dating websites.
"You need to stay on the website's communication,” Latham said. “In all of our conversations with victims, they were immediately moved from the proprietary communication from the website off to Yahoo chat or to phone calls.”
Sunmola faced mail and wire fraud along with conspiracy charges and was sentenced to 27 years in prison. He was also ordered to pay $1.7 million back to victims.