Ghanian influencer charged for role in $2M romance scam targeting elderly
A popular Ghanaian social media influencer has been extradited to the U.S. from the United Kingdom after being charged for her role in a lucrative romance scam targeting elderly Americans.
Prosecutors charged Mona Faiz Montrage, 30, with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, money laundering conspiracy, and money laundering, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, the Department of Justice said in a news release.
Montrage is also charged with receipt of stolen money, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, and conspiracy to receive stolen money, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, prosecutors said.
Montrage, who is from Accra, Ghana, currently has 4.2 million followers on Instagram. At one point her account, which uses the handle “Hajia4Reall,” was among the top 10 most followed profiles in Ghana.
Prosecutors allege that from around 2013 through 2019, Montrage was a member of a criminal enterprise in West Africa that committed fraud, including romance scams, against individuals and businesses in the United States. The victims of the scheme’s romance scam were typically “vulnerable, older men and women who lived alone,” according to prosecutors.
The scammers allegedly would send their victims emails, texts, and social media messages that tricked them into believing they were in romantic relationships, prosecutors said.
“Once members of the Enterprise had successfully convinced victims that they were in a romantic relationship and had gained their trust, they convinced the victims, under false pretenses, to transfer money to bank accounts the victims believed were controlled by their romantic interests, when, in fact, the bank accounts were controlled by members of the Enterprise,” prosecutors said.
Prosecutors say that Montrage controlled bank accounts that received over $2 million in fraudulent funds.
Montrage allegedly received money from several victims who were tricked into sending funds by being told the payments were to transfer gold to the United States from overseas, resolve a fake FBI unemployment investigation, or even help a fictitious American army officer receive funds from Afghanistan, according to prosecutors.
With one of her victims, Montrage used her real name and spoke with him on the phone several times, prosecutors said. She sent the victim a fake marriage certificate that claimed the pair had wed in Ghana. The victim sent Montrage 82 wire transfers that totaled $89,000, supposedly to help Montrage’s father’s farm in Ghana, prosecutors said.
“Romance scams – especially those that target older individuals – are of major concern. The FBI will be tireless in our efforts to hold fraudsters accountable in the criminal justice system,” FBI Assistant Director in Charge Michael J. Driscoll said in a statement.