R70 million online dating scam in South Africa

An Internet fraud syndicate operating out of Pretoria stole over R70 million from hundreds of women over six years, with a Nigerian man posing as a US soldier to win the hearts of his lonely victims.

According to a report in the Sunday Times, the cyber scam network was set up by a group of Nigerians in 2009, which ran romance and credit card-related scams.

One victim was an American woman who was ditched while waiting at an airport, in her wedding dress along with her pastor, for her “future husband”.

She had never met the man in person, but he said he was a US soldier stationed in South Africa.

The pair had talked online for eight months after meeting on an online dating site, during which time she made several money transfers to him.

Hundreds of women scammed

According to the report, hundreds of women from the US, UK, and Canada were scammed by the Pretoria syndicate.

The Hawks, working with US and UK authorities, bust the group – with 11 Nigerians arrested and extradited to the US in the first phase of the operation.

”They would purchase things online, spending millions of rand. They were buying… iPads and laptops, which were shipped to South Africa to be distributed in West Africa,” said The Hawks in the report.

The Hawks were then contacted by US authorities, which had identified the syndicate’s kingpin – Olayinka Ilumsa Sunmola.

He was based in South Africa, and used sites like Match.com and pof.com to target divorced or widowed women aged between 40 and 60.

”This man would profess his love for these women for months and eventually come up with emergencies like his child had a medical emergency and he needed money.”

Victims would then transfer funds to the “US soldier”. The women paid between R3,000 and R1.4 million each to Sunmola.

46 victims have come forward so far, stated the report.

Sunmola’s scams were so successful that he bought three properties in Pretoria and one in Sandton – paying cash.

Sunmola was arrested in 2014 by Scotland Yard while travelling in the UK, and last week saw representatives from The Hawks testifying against him during a trial in the US.

Sunmola faces up to 127 years in a US prison and a fine of R2 million.

The full report is available in the Sunday Times of 13 March 2016.

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R70 million online dating scam in South Africa