A suspected romance scammer from Nigeria, accused of defrauding three women, including a 74-year-old victim, of a total of R1.3 million, has been apprehended through a joint effort involving a private investigative company and the Hawks.
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Operating under the alias “Howard Gibson Wayne,” the man used fake photos and portrayed himself as a Lebanese national on social media as reported by IOL. He enticed his victims with claims of owning a property in Camps Bay and being a highly successful engineer involved in multimillion-dollar construction projects.
The victims, aged 55, 56, and 74, were retirees or semi-retired individuals seeking companionship and love online. They resided in Melkbosstrand, Killarney, and one lived abroad.
The private investigative company, Royal Investigators, was contacted by one of the victims last month. One of the victims lost her entire life savings, amounting to R800,000, and was now facing financial hardship.
Royal Investigators initiated a thorough inquiry in Gauteng, led by John Alexander and former Detective Lieutenant-Colonel Neels van Zyl. This operation culminated in the successful arrest of the suspect in Fourways, Johannesburg. Incriminating evidence was discovered, leading to a subsequent search and seizure operation at the suspect’s residence. Authorities confiscated at least 15 mobile phones and seized five laptops, all believed to have been used in the commission of the crimes.
The investigation revealed a sophisticated operation, with the suspect utilising unregistered SIM cards and money mules to facilitate the collection of fraudulent funds.
Gauteng Hawks spokesperson Thatohatsi Mavimbela confirmed the suspect’s arrest during a joint operation between the Hawks and Royal Investigators on September 13, 2023. The suspect was apprehended while en route to collect a parcel at PostNet and faces fraud charges.
In light of this incident, global cybersecurity and digital privacy company Kaspersky emphasised the importance of online safety. They advised individuals to verify information before meeting someone in person or sharing personal details. It was also recommended to use secure and encrypted connections when sharing personal information on online dating platforms to prevent hacking or eavesdropping. Additionally, they cautioned against oversharing sensitive information until trust has been established and urged caution regarding requests for money or favours, especially if they seem unreasonable.
The suspect is scheduled to make his second court appearance at the Alexandra Magistrate’s Court in Johannesburg on Thursday.
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Photo by Anna Tarazevich