Regina (April 20, 2020) – The Saskatchewan RCMP made a breakthrough in a ‘multimillion-dollar’ romance scam investigation that started in 2018. Five men are suspected of defrauding seven women out of up to $2 million. The scams were conducted over a period of two years. On January 15, the RCMP arrested and charged Austin Newton (28) in connection with the romance scams. Now, they have issued Canada-wide warrants for the arrest of Kelvin Awani (24), Jonah Eigbuluese (22), Joshua Ometie (25), and Clinton Newton (27). It is believed that the five men are tied to an international criminal organization.
The Federal Serious and Organized Crime (FSOC) Unit of the Saskatchewan RCMP informed the public about a long-running ‘multimillion-dollar’ romance scam investigation in a press release on April 16. After two years of investigation, the FSOC Unit suspected five men of conducting romance scams and being tied to an international criminal organization. The RCMP arrested one man in mid-January and issued a Canada-wide warrant for arrest for the other four individuals.
Two-year investigation into a ‘multimillion-dollar’ romance scam
The FSOC Unit of the Saskatchewan RCMP was investigating an unrelated fraud complaint in January 2018 from an individual, whose name was used without permission and knowledge in a fraudulent transaction online. In the course of the investigation, they discovered that over 50 Canadian bank accounts were involved in online romance scams. Subsequently, the identified bank accounts were investigated using intelligence-based policing such as a series of surveillance operations, numerous interviews, and the acquisition of several judicial authorizations over the following 18 months.
Through their investigation, the RCMP identified five men, who are accused of playing a part in the long-running ‘multimillion-dollar’ romance scams and were living in Regina at the time of the crimes. Additionally, the RCMP believe that the suspects are tied to a larger international criminal organization. With the assistance of the criminal organization, over the past two years, the romance fraudsters were supposedly able to defraud victims out of a combined total of over $2 million.
RCMP made arrest and issued a warrant for four men
On January 15 of this year, the RCMP already arrested Austin Newton (28) for participating in scams, which victimized seven different women worth approximately $360,000. He has been charged with fraudulently impersonating another person, fraud under $5,000, fraud over $5,000, and possession of proceeds of crime over $5,000. He is scheduled to appear in court on April 21 via video for a bail hearing.
The RCMP informed in their press release that they issued a Canada-wide warrant for the arrest of Kelvin Awani (24), Jonah Eigbuluese (22), Joshua Ometie (25), and Clinton Newton (27) in connection with the investigated romance scams. The Saskatchewan Mounties said that the four men could be anywhere in Canada.
RCMP struck by the apparent authenticity of these online romance scams
The RCMP explained that the scammers met the women on game apps and dating websites where they took their time to develop online relationships that felt genuine to the victims. ‘These scams looked very real. The women who were victimized by these scammers could have been anyone. They were not naïve or foolish. They were preyed upon,’ clarified RCMP Insp. Wayne Nichols in a video message online.
The scammers were patient and stayed in contact with their victims multiple times every day. They exchanged information about their families, jobs, and daily life. They sent pictures, gifts and made plans to visit each other. Inspector Nichols said that in one case the couple even exchanged rings and were planning to get married.
‘The amount of work done by these scammers to keep up the lies and keep up in constant communication to convince the women, they were victimizing, they were in a true, intimate relationship was significant. It made sense to believe, this was a real relationship.’
The scammers waited a long time before they asked their victims for money – sometimes up to eight months. When they asked for the money, they made up an urgent situation such as a work accident or an upcoming birthday of a child. This is a common technique for fraudsters. By creating a sense of emergency for the victims, they usually do not take the time to think twice before sending money. In these cases, the online rogues always promised their victims to pay the money back.
Defrauding women out of probably up to $2 million
Inspector Nichols stated in the video that the RCMP can prove that the fraudsters defrauded seven women out of over $360,000 over two years. He added that the women who were victimized say they have lost collectively more than $2 million over the course of their fake relationships.
In 2019, Canadians lost over $19 million to romance scams, according to the Canadian Anit-Fraud Centre (CAFC). The government agency received 972 complaints related to romance scams in the last year that included 682 victims. Although, only a small fraction of the victims report the crime due to the huge emotional damage and humiliation that most of the victims are left with. Most victims of romance fraud do not bring civil actions either.
‘The press release of the RCMP is helpful, but victims of romance scams should be aware that in most cases the police do not obtain recoveries for the victims,’ indicated fraud recovery lawyer Norman Groot of Investigation Counsel PC. ‘This is not a negative commentary on law enforcement. In many cases, recovery in romance scams is very difficult due to funds being transferred out of the Canadian jurisdiction, and dissipation of the funds by the rogues. That said, if victims do wish to determine if recovery is possible, they should make inquiries with their own lawyer.’
The red flags of fraudulent online romances
In the aftermath of the investigation, the Saskatchewan RCMP released a video to inform the public about the schemes of the romance rogues who were defrauding victims all across Canada. Additionally, they have also taken this opportunity to outline the red flags of bogus online romances.
The RCMP explained that the schemes are often similar and people should be suspicious about the following while communicating online:
- the online individual claims to have had a tragedy or a complication in his life, either a dead family member, a personal illness or the inability to visit his family;
- the online individual claims to be working in a remote location, where he cannot access his bank account, for example at a remote oil-drilling platform or a foreign military complex;
- the online individual claims he needs the money to pay for an emergency or a time-sensitive event, such as medical expenses after an injury or an illness, fees to free up his money that is being held by a third party, or a birthday gift to a child who is in another location; and
- the online individual claims the money has to be sent to a third party, or a representative of the online individual, who will send him the money.
Read more: Five arrested in Canada-wide romance scams
Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of the above described four individuals is asked to call 306-310-RCMP (7267) or their local police service.
Anyone who wishes to inquire fraud recovery information on their own case, or wishes to report fraud with whistleblower protection, please contact D. Slenys of Investigation Counsel PC at 416-637-3151 or email@example.com.