MILVILLE, NJ (NJ.com) – A New Jersey man has been charged in a $2.1 million online dating scheme that duped people into sending money to supposed U.S. soldiers serving overseas, federal authorities said Wednesday.
One of the victims committed suicide after sending more than $93,000, according to investigators.
Rubbin Sarpong, 35, of Millville, is charged with a single count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and will have a first court appearance on Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. Attorney’s office reported.
Sarpong and his co-conspirators, several of whom live in Ghana, ran the scheme starting in January 2016 until this week.
They set up phony profiles on various online dating sites posing as U.S. military personnel and would pretend to forge romantic relationships with their victims, authorities said.
In one of the scenarios, the scammers would then ask for money to ship gold bars they had recovered while stationed in Syria back to the United States, authorities said.
There were no gold bars and the scammers kept the money, authorities said.
The victims, who met the scammers via sites including Plenty of Fish, Ourtime.com and Match.com, communicated with the scammers via phone and email.
The criminal complaint references a victim who committed suicide after wiring $93,710.
The scammer in this case told her he was a soldier serving in Syria and that he was awarded a box of gold bars worth more than $12 million. What followed was an elaborate story about how she could help get the gold to the U.S. by paying various fees and taxes. She was told her money would be returned once the gold arrived.
The scammer allegedly put her in touch with a co-conspirator who posed as a diplomat and she was presented with fake documents to back up the story.
The day before she died, the woman told her daughter she was headed to Baltimore/Washington International Airport to meet the diplomat arriving with the shipment of gold, according to the complaint.
Most of the money this victim wired was sent to a bank account controlled by Sarpong.
Of the 30 victims identified so far, 27 sent more than $823,000 to Sarpong, mainly by wiring money to his bank accounts. He transferred more than $454,000 to co-conspirators in Ghana.
Sarpong was born in Ghana, but is a legal permanent U.S. resident.
Investigators noted that Sarpong bragged about his financial success on social media, including posting photo of himself posing with wads of cash, jewelry and fancy cars.
He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.