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Texas Man Admits to $1.6M Catfishing Scheme

State

Chat messages on a laptop of an old woman. Love fraud scam of catfishing. | Image by Tero Vesalainen, Shutterstock

A Richmond man admitted to running an online romance scam that brought in over $1.6 million by pretending to be a four-star U.S. Army general on Facebook to extort large sums of money from senior women.

Fola Alabi, also known as Folayemi Alabi, 52, pleaded guilty on January 11 to charges of conspiracy and money laundering, telling a federal judge in Rhode Island that he set up fake businesses and opened bank accounts in Texas to hide the money he stole from women in at least 11 states, according to a Department of Justice news release.

U.S. Attorney Zachary A. Cunha said that Alabi persuaded the women to send money.

Alabi, who claimed to be someone named “General Miller,” contacted the initial victim from Westerly, Rhode Island, via Facebook in June 2021. According to the news release, after hearing from Alabi that he needed help bringing his personal belongings back to the U.S. from abroad, the 78-year-old widow sent him a cashier’s check for $60,000.

According to the Houston Chronicle, a 70-year-old widow from Prescott Valley, Arizona, reported to police in April 2022 that she had lost over $925,000 and sold her house, RV, and jewelry because of Alabi’s deception.

She was ashamed and embarrassed about what happened and told police that her financial situation was now so dire that she had gone weeks without eating and could not pay her bills.

Authorities claim that Alabi contacted women on Facebook under several aliases, including “General James Welsh,” “General Scott Berrier,” “General James McConville,” and “General Glenn Goddard,” the Houston Chronicle reported.

The senior women were told to send bank checks or cash to businesses and addresses in Texas, said the new release. One of the businesses was Full Circle Import Exports, which Alabi started at the same address as his home in Richmond.

Alabi either requested that the women deposit the money into one of the numerous bank accounts he controlled, or he did so himself, according to the Houston Chronicle. He would then swiftly withdraw the money or move it to other accounts.

At the time of his arrest in May 2022, FBI and Homeland Security agents seized his cell phone. The agents found “photographs and videos of packages containing cash and checks received by Alabi from victims of the scam,” according to the news release.

Alabi received $1,640,421 in total from the romance scheme, according to the news release.

Alabi’s plea deal stipulates that he must give up property acquired through the fraud, including his Richmond home and the $31,773.22 in a bank account. The sentencing date for Alabi is set for April 25.

More than 92,000 victims over the age of 60 reported $1.7 billion in losses to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) in 2021. The age range represents a 74% increase in losses compared to 2020, according to The Dallas Express.

“If it can happen to me, it can happen to you,” said former FBI and CIA Director William Webster in May in an online video hoping to prevent other older adults from being defrauded, The Dallas Express reported.

Webster was targeted in a phone scam in 2019 and urged older people and their loved ones to be wary of elder fraud schemes.

“You’ve worked hard. You’ve saved,” Webster said. “Don’t let criminals try to take that away from you. If you or a loved one have been affected by elder fraud, contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI or visit ic3.gov to file a complaint.”

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