Chicago man 8th from area charged in online 'romance,' 'mystery shopper' scams

Photo Source: Colin / Wikimedia Commons

Another Chicagoan has been charged in an international online scamming operation, making him the eighth person from the area to be charged and the 10th overall.

The scheme, which included “romance” and “mystery shopper” scams, netted the defendants millions of dollars since 2016, the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois said. The defendants have been charged with a combination of wire fraud, making a false statement to a financial institution and passport fraud.

Olaniyi Nasiru Ojikutu, 39, was charged with wire fraud May 16, the attorney’s office said. He is still at large. The charge is part of the wider Operation Gold Phish investigation.

The other seven who were charged last year are: Daniel Samuel Eta, 35, of Skokie; Babatunde Ladehinde Labiyi, 20, of Chicago; Barnabas Oghenerukevwe Edjieh, 29, of Chicago; Sultan Omogbadebo Anifowoshe, 26, of Chicago; Babatunde Ibraheem Akarigidi, 39, of Chicago; Miracle Ayokunle Okunola, 21, of Chicago; Olurotimi Akitunde Idowu, 55, of Chicago. Two more people were arrested in Texas and Nigeria, and all are in custody.

The group allegedly scammed victims out of their money by building fake romantic or professional relationships with them over online communities such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and, according to a federal indictment filed by the attorney’s office. After building a connection with the victim, they would request a deposit into bank accounts opened under fake names.

In the mystery shopper scams, the defendants allegedly sent victims fake money orders or checks and instructed them to deposit them into their personal bank accounts, withdraw money and send the money through services such as Western Union or Money Gram to “evaluate” them, the indictment said. After the checks turned out fake, the bank or the victim would absorb the loss.

The schemes also included “business email compromise” and “employment fraud” scams, the indictment said. The business email scams defrauded businesses that regularly perform wire transfers, while the employment fraud scams presented victims with fake business opportunities.

In one romance scam, several of the defendants, using the name “Frank,” developed a romantic relationship with a person referred to as Victim L over Facebook, the indictment said. “Frank” told Victim L that he would join Victim L in the United States and asked for money to help pay for his son’s medical bills — a request to which Victim L obliged.

All ten defendants have been charged with wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, the attorney’s office said. Seven have been charged with making a false statement to a financial institution and passport fraud, punishable by 30 years and 10 years respectively.

The eight defendants in U.S. custody pleaded not guilty, the attorney’s office said.