Online and social media romance scam bilks dozens of senior citizens out of more than $2M

Five people were charged in U.S. District Court of Providence, Rhode Island, on suspicion of bilking more than $2 million from dozens of senior citizens across the country through an online romance scam.

The scam started in May 2015, according to the Department of Justice, and the victims were contacted by scammers through online dating sites such as Plenty of Fish, Christian Mingle and Our Time, as well as through social media applications such as Words with Friends.

Scammers would pretend to have romantic intentions with each victim. They then gained the victim’s trust and convinced the person to send money to bank accounts controlled by the suspects.

At least 28 people in more than a dozen states fell victim to the scams.

One of those victims was a 76-year-old Rhode Island widow who refinanced her home, sold property she owned in Massachusetts and withdrew money from accounts totaling more than $660,000 for the scammers.

The woman told investigators that she sent transfers at the direction of a Gen. Mathew Weyer, a man who claimed to be stationed in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army. She met him through Words with Friends.

Authorities determined Weyer was a fictional person and the name was allegedly used by the suspects who were really the people communicating with the woman.All five of the members in the group were identified and charged, but only four have been arrested.

Wisdom Onyobeno, 39, of Sandy Springs, Georgia, is the suspected leader of the scam group. He was ordered to remain in federal custody.He was arrested at his Georgia home on Nov. 19 on a criminal complaint charging him with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, mail fraud and wire fraud.

Four other people were charged in similar criminal complaints alleging conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, mail fraud and wire fraud. The people charged were Dominique Golden, 28 and Sadae Mills, 24, both of Houston, as well as Breauna Williams, 25, of Atlanta, and Syretta Scherer, of Sandy Springs, Georgia.

Mills and Golden were also charged in a federal grand jury indictment in Rhode Island on Oct. 3. They are suspected of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, nine counts of mail fraud and six counts of wire fraud. They were arraigned and released on bond on Oct. 30.

Scherer was arrested on Nov. 19 and released on bond.

Williams remains on the run with an outstanding arrest warrant.

The investigation remains ongoing.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.