Prosecutors in Gulfport, Mississippi, recently took down one Nigerian crime ring that brought in $52 million.
For one former government agent, that scam began with a woman showing up at his door.
“I was overseas on a government assignment. … I got a call from my wife that someone had come onto our property looking for me,” said the agent, who spoke to CNBC on the condition of anonymity. “The person told my wife that she had met me with my name” on a dating website.
That woman drove miles to a rural town to meet a man she had never met, but believed she was in love with. Others sent letters.
“They were asking, ‘why aren’t I hearing from you? Where are you? What do you want me to do with the clothes, with the laptop I purchased?” he said.
The former agent’s name and location were used to reel in people looking for love all across the country. It all began with scripts blasted out on dating websites.
“The same language was used with one person after another … it didn’t matter if it was male or female,” said Annette Williams, an assistant U.S. attorney with the Southern District of Mississippi, who prosecuted the case.
The scripts had a specific target in mind.
“These type of transnational criminal organizations solicit their victims between the ages of 45- 75, widowed men and women. They choose these individuals because they are lonely, [and] in most occasions, they have access to money,” said Todd Williams, an agent with Homeland Security Investigations.
After a relationship was established, the con artists began asking for favors.
“I want you to assist me pay the bill,” one note asked.
That’s what happened to N.J., who asked CNBC to identify her by her initials.
“He asked me about my family and I asked him about his. … It was like … if he was here and we knew each other,” she said. “How you would talk with a boyfriend.”
N.J.’s online boyfriend sent her a box of phones and asked her to mail them to Africa. That’s when she got suspicious and called police.
“That one phone call took down this massive fraud network,” said Conor Mulroe, a Department of Justice trial attorney, who prosecuted the case.