South African police arrest eight romance scammers for stealing $6.85 million
Catalin Cimpanu October 19, 2021

South African police arrest eight romance scammers for stealing $6.85 million

Catalin Cimpanu

October 19, 2021

South African police arrest eight romance scammers for stealing $6.85 million

The South African Police Service has arrested eight suspects on charges of engaging in romance scams and stealing more than 100 million rand ($6.85 million) from victims.

The suspects were arrested today in Cape Town, are believed to be Nigerian nationals, and were detained at the request of US authorities, including the FBI and the US Secret Service.

Investigators said the suspects operated on dating and social media sites, where they approached vulnerable widows or divorcees.

The victims were led to believe that they were in a genuine romantic relationship but were scammed out of their money.

“The fraudsters intimidated and berated their victims, ruined their lives and then disappeared,” SAPS said today in a press release.

The group also engaged in a tactic known as BEC (business email compromise), where they breached a company’s email and then misled customers or suppliers to make payments into accounts they controlled.

Suspects have ties to a Nigerian crime syndicate

“The suspects in this investigation are alleged to have ties to a transnational organized crime syndicate originating in Nigeria,” South African police said today.

SAPS did not name the Nigerian organized crime syndicate in their press release, but a local report claimed the suspects were members of Black Axe, a well-known crime syndicate active all over the world and involved in all sorts of criminal activity ranging from online scams to drug trafficking and prostitution.

The arrests in South Africa come after US officials arrested 33 Black Axe members last month on similar offenses of romance scams and BEC fraud.

The arrests today also come a month after the FBI sent out a security alert on September 16 about an increase in romance scams across the US. At the time, the agency said it received more than 1,800 complaints about romance scams in the first seven months of 2021, with losses of more than $133 million.

According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Report for 2020, romance scams were the eighth most common form of cybercrime reported in the US last year, but the second in reported losses, with more than $600 million being reported stolen last year.

FBI IC3 stats 2020
Image: FBI IC3

Catalin Cimpanu is a cybersecurity reporter for The Record. He previously worked at ZDNet and Bleeping Computer, where he became a well-known name in the industry for his constant scoops on new vulnerabilities, cyberattacks, and law enforcement actions against hackers.