It’s a tangled story not of true romance — but of an individual prying on the goodness of others seeking companionship.
Lt. Jeff Crites with the Farmington Police Department said an inquiry from an individual in Hawaii branches out to involve individuals in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and California.
Crites said the department was contacted by a gentleman in Hawaii after he purchased a cell phone for a “female” he met in an online dating service.
“This ‘female’ had gained his confidence … and said she had a bad phone,” Crites said. “She requested a cell phone. So, the victim purchased an iPhone and accessories and mailed it to her at an address in Farmington.”
The gentleman told the department he received word the package was received. However, after that, communications between the two ceased.
“He made contact with her again, eventually,” Crites said. “She claimed she had pawned the phone, but the phone was never activated. He was requesting us to conduct an investigation.”
Crites said contact was made with the individual living at the address where the package was delivered. It’s at that time a tangled web of online dating relationships began to be woven together.
According to Crites, the individual at the address told investigators he met a female approximately a year ago through an online dating services and was conversing through text messages. The individual told the detectives this person was currently in Nigeria.
After inquiring about the phone delivered from Hawaii, the gentleman in Farmington told detectives “she’s received a lot of phones while she’s staying over there for some kind of inheritance she is working on getting.”
It seems the phone from Hawaii was not the only one sent to the Farmington address.
Crites said the “woman” told the individual in Farmington how friends and family would be sending phones to his address. This person, in turn, asked the Farmington man to send those phone along to her.
“While speaking with him, I asked him if he’s received any other phones and all that,” Crites said. “He had kept a lot of the packaging and partial packaging (from packages sent).”
There were addresses from Tennessee, Virginia, California and Florida along with the package from Hawaii. Crites said he began contacting some of the individuals whose addresses were found in the apartment.
“I have a lady in Virginia who said she met a male on a dating site … and said ‘we’ve been speaking since April’ and gained her confidence,” Crites said.
Around Christmas, the woman said the “gentleman” — who said he was a flight attendant — was overseas, forgot to get his “daughter” a present and asked her to send a cell phone to a friend in Farmington.
“So, she goes and purchases an iPhone X,” Crites said. Her phone is one of those recovered from the address in Farmington.
Another phone in the apartment was mailed by a gentleman in Tennessee. This gentleman was able to send the detective a “driver’s license” sent to him by the person he met online — which lists the name of the individual in Farmington, in reverse order, along with the address.
Crites said it appears all the victims are talking to the same person in Nigeria, who is representing themselves as a person who is from or has connections in Farmington. That person, in turn, is asking the scamming victims to send the phones to the address in Farmington. And, Crites believes the gentleman in Farmington sent a copy of his license, which was used to generate the fake license.
Crites said with a case like this, the perpetrator of the scam will likely never face charges here.
“This is the problem,” Crites said. “They’re in Nigeria — we have no jurisdiction outside the United States. We’re not going to catch these people. All we can do is recover the phones and send them back to the rightful owners.”
He compared it to a repackaging scam. In all, five phones were recovered. The phone and accessories from Hawaii were recovered, as well as the one sent from Virginia.
And, the detective said, the gentleman in Farmington is as much a victim as those who mailed the phones to his address.
“The guy in Farmington we looked at as an unwitting participant,” Crites said, adding that until the scam came to light, the gentleman did not believe he was doing anything wrong.
“And, the reason for that is he is receiving the phones and mailing them off to his supposed female friend in Nigeria,” Crites said.
He also asked the gentlemen in Farmington if he’d received any other unsolicited correspondence. Crites said he then gave him a priority mail envelope with a “check” for $25,000 from an industrial supply company in Connecticut.
“He told me ‘I felt like it might be a scam’,” Crites said, noting, if cashed, the gentleman would have been responsible for the amount.
Crites provided the following tips on avoiding online dating scams — which were provided to him by one of the victims in this case.
• Never provide financial or banking information to anyone.
• Use caution when giving out personal email address and contact information.
• If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
• Alert the online sites of any suspicious activity.