DALLAS — Eleven people have been indicted in connection with a scheme that targeted elderly people for money, the U.S. attorney’s office for the Northern District of Texas announced Friday.

All 11 were arrested in a large-scale operation Wednesday morning, the U.S. attorney’s office said. Most are tied to a transnational organized crime syndicate originating in Nigeria, the office said.

The office described the crimes as “romance schemes” in which the suspects allegedly used fake names to lure elderly victims – mostly women – through dating websites and mobile apps like match.com, Christian Mingle, JSwipe and Plenty of Fish.

After giving the false impression that they were romantically interested in the victims, the office said, the alleged fraudsters homed in on their bank accounts by pitching “sob stories” for why theyt needed money – essential overseas travel, crippling debt, tax obligations and the like.

Between 2015 and 2020, the 11 suspects siphoned tens of thousands of dollars from victims, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

“Crimes like these are especially despicable because they rely not only on victims’ lack of internet savvy, but also their isolation, their loneliness and sometimes their grief. As the victims open their hearts, the perpetrators open their wallets,” Acting U.S. Attorney Prerak Shah said. “The only mistake these victims make is being generous to the wrong people.”

The U.S. attorney’s office identified the accused as Afeez Abiola Alao, 37; David Animashaun, 38; Uwadiale Esezobor, 36; Victor Idowu, 36; Oluwalobamise Michael Moses, 40; Irabor Fatarr Musa, 51; Ambrose Sunday Ohide, 47; Ijeoma Okoro, 31; Chukwemeka Orji, 36; Emanuel Stanley Orji, 35; and Frederick Orji, 37.

They’re charged with counts including conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, the office said. If convicted, they face up 20 years in federal prison on the wire-fraud conspiracy charges and up to 10 years on the money-laundering conspiracy charges.

Most of the accused were arrested in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the office said, adding that nearly two dozen more people were charged in a related indictment in the Eastern District of Texas.

Matthew DeSarno, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas field office, said Wednesday’s operation will have a significant effect in the region.

“The crimes allegedly committed by these defendants hit close to home. Your neighbors, parents, friends and family would be targets of this organization. The fraudsters intimidated and berated their victims, ruined their lives, really, and then disappeared,” DeSarno said in a written statement.

More than 20,000 people collectively lost more than $600 million in romance schemes last year, according to the FBI. Tips on how to avoid falling prey to such scames can be found online by going to the Federal Trade Commission’s romance scam page. People can file reports about such schemes to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

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