Woman who lost ฿1 million after commencing an online relationship last year on Instagram and LINE with someone she thought was a US businessman in Malaysia submitted a complaint to the Central Investigation Bureau after the gang came back for ฿500,000 more by seeking medical costs from her for the fictitious American who she was told was seriously ill in hospital. The romance scam industry worldwide is controlled by organised crime gangs in West Africa and has been described by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as a rival to the international drugs trade with even more lucrative profits to be made by callously exploiting gullible, lonely and vulnerable individuals that increasingly exist in society.
Police on Monday smashed a romance scam gang led by a Nigerian man and his Thai wife who managed to have ฿200 million circulating in up to 50 bank accounts within the last year. Six people, including the Nigerian, his wife and four other Thai nationals are to be charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and offences under the Computer Crime Act.
A senior Bangkok based police officer revealed on Monday that a Nigerian romance scam swindler and his Thai wife had up to ฿200 million circulating in their bank accounts during the last two years from 2020.
The revelation came after six suspects were handed over to police officers at Wang Thong Lang Police Station for legal proceedings and prosecution before the Criminal Court. The gang are to be prosecuted for collusion to commit fraud and for importing false information onto a computer system under the Computer Crimes Act.
Raids on seven locations in four provinces
The arrests of the six came after police with the Crime Suppression Division, subdivision 3, conducted raids on seven locations in four different provinces namely Bangkok, Pathum Thani, Nakhon Sawan and Phuket on Monday.
Police Colonel Wiwat Jitsophakul revealed that ฿908,000 had been seized by police as well as a Mitsubishi pickup, seven smartphones, 18 bank account books, 11 bank cards, 11 watches and ivory ornaments.
In all, the gang used 50 different bank accounts over the past two years.
44 year old Nigerian and his 46-year-old Thai wife were leaders of the romance scam gang
The senior police officer revealed that the Nigerian, named as 44-year-old Ezenekwe Uzochukwu Jorome and his 46-year-old Thai wife, Punyawee Chusinjiraphat had established a front to launder their illicit profits by setting up a restaurant and a currency exchange shop. It is understood the pair were the leaders of the gang.
He revealed that Mr Jorome had previously been detected by police in Chiang Mai where he engaged in online scams posing as a decommissioned South African Army officer, a storyline that was used to deceive and defraud several women there also.
Arrested suspects deny any culpability and all charges being raised against them say police sources
The gang arrested on Monday were taken in by the Crime Suppression Division for questioning. It is understood that a seventh suspect is still being looked for by the police.
The gang members, including the Nigerian and his wife, deny any culpability in the circumstances and the case being built by the police against them which led to their arrest on Monday.
Complaint made to Central Investigation Bureau boss by a woman who lost ฿1 million after befriending an American businessman in Malaysia online
The investigation into the romance scam group began last year after one of their victims filed a complaint with Police Major General Jiraphop Phuridech, Deputy Commissioner of the Central Investigation Bureau.
The woman suffered a financial loss of ฿1 million after befriending a man on the US website Instagram.
The man used the alias Mr Lanny Gray. The scammers presented a front to the woman of an American businessman working in Malaysia.
FBI in 2019 said romance scamming was even bigger than the international drugs trade and controlled by African organised crime gangs
Extensive probes by both the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Australian police and in recent years, the Royal Thai Police under former Immigration Bureau chief Police Lieutenant General Surachate Hakparn or ‘Big Joke’ have identified strong links between the romance scam gangs operating in Thailand and Malaysia.
It is understood the multi-billion dollar industry, reported by the FBI to rival even the international drugs trade, is controlled by an organised crime network in Nigeria and other West African countries who send teams of scammers abroad especially to Malaysia and demand a percentage of the earnings.
More lonely women in a changing society
On a wider note, the industry preys on changes in society over the last forty years which have seen more and more people isolated and left without love partners particularly among women who often have adequate resources and financial independence but are simply lonely.
Many scammers arrested in Thailand in recent years have entered the country from Malaysia sometimes illegally.
The rate of romance scam activity spiked by 70% in 2019 with police intelligence sources in Thailand linking it to Nigerian gangs in the kingdom also involved in drug trafficking as they funnelled their easy cash made from the misery of Thai women and also men into the equally lucrative drugs trade which also has African linked networks in Thailand which overlap.
The familiar story of a valuable package being sent to Thailand and intercepted by customs and shipping agents saw a vulnerable woman part with her money
In the case which led to Monday’s roundup and arrests, the story related by police was all too familiar.
The woman was invited by her new best friend and would-be lover to use the LINE application for a more intimate conversation. After her trust was gained, she was told by the businessman he was going to send her gifts of considerable financial value.
Contacted by Thai members of the gang posing variously as customs, shipping agents and border control officers, she transferred taxes and duties on the package being sent to her. This came to ฿1 million and yet she received no package.
Only when a call came through purportedly from Malaysia to say that Mr Gray was seriously ill in hospital and that his medical expenses would be ฿500,000 to be paid urgently, did she smell a rat.
This is what led her to make her complaint to the Central Investigation Bureau.