A Nigerian man living in Queensland, Australia has been arrested and charged after allegedly posing as a United States soldier online and forming a romantic relationship with a 34-year-old woman who sent him $370,000 all in the name of love.
Cosmos Emeh, 32, appeared in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on Friday, where it was revealed he had also been accused of trying to get the victim to send him a further $170,000 before officers swooped and arrested him at his Durack home on Thursday.
Mr Emeh, who is in Australia on a student visa, allegedly received the money over the course of three months from the 34-year-old Brisbane woman, who later contacted police and sparked the investigation.
According to his defence lawyer, the accused has been in Australia for two years, has no criminal history, is studying a certificate of urban and environmental planning at Griffith University and already holds a bachelor degree.
He had rented a Durack home with his partner, a permanent citizen, since entering the country.
According to his defence lawyer, Mr Emeh claimed the SIM card he was found with, allegedly associated with the phone number used to ask the victim for money, had only been in his possession since Thursday after it was sent to him.
The court heard Mr Emeh denied knowing the victim prior to Thursday, having any contact with her on the internet, being the instigator of the relationship or knowing he was involved in a scam.
However, Mr Emeh conceded that he may look suspicious in the circumstances, his lawyer said.
Police will allege the woman became involved with Mr Emeh on a social media platform in October 2018 while he was claiming to be a US soldier in Syria.
“Over the course of the following months, the victim was groomed into believing the stories provided by the criminal and formed an online romantic relationship,” a police spokesman said, before the man faced court.
“The victim sent over $200,000 to the ‘US soldier’ via a series of transfers through a money transfer service.”
Prior to his court appearance, police issued a public warning after uncovering a “disturbing element” within the alleged scam. They claimed the accused – acting as an agent for the soldier he was allegedly impersonating – travelled to the victim’s home to collect another $105,000.
In court, prosecutors alleged Mr Emeh had received a total of $370,000 from the victim.
Detective Superintendent Terry Lawrence of the state crime command’s financial and cyber crime group said the alleged scam was common worldwide.
“The US Army Criminal Investigation Command receives hundreds of complaints a month from people who find themselves involved in an online relationship with someone purporting to be a US soldier,” he said.
“Usually the offender’s interaction with the victim is all online so this further step of travelling to the victim’s home is certainly something we need the public to hear and be warned of today.”
Detective Inspector Vince Byrnes, of the same squad, said these were the first allegations he knew of that a scammer had met with their victim in person to collect money.
“In this case, the disturbing development is a person attending the address … the nature of this scam makes it different,” he said.
“They claimed to be an agent acting on behalf and by prearrangement between the alleged US soldier and the victim.”
Inspector Byrnes alleged once the romantic relationship was established, the accused spoke about importing property into Australia.
“It may have been held up in relation to a customs or a revenue issue associated with that and that person didn’t have access to funds,” he told reporters.
“The scammer (would ask) ‘could you please help me by providing some funds to me to release my property?’
“In this case, there was a backstory with the US military officer that involved the loss of close family members so … perhaps sympathy and empathy and this is what these scammers do.”
Superintendent Lawrence urged those using social media platforms to develop friendships or relationships online to stay alert.
“I know emotions may make that harder but arm yourself with the knowledge that these scams are occurring to everyday members of the community like you,” he said.
“Take the time to evaluate the relationship, talk to friends and other loved ones about your new relationship online. We are thankful the victim in this instance took this step.”
Mr Emeh appeared in Brisbane Magistrates Court on Friday, where he was remanded in custody awaiting a committal callover in the on February 11.
“I find he is an unacceptable risk of committing further offences and also an unacceptable risk of failing to appear,” the magistrate said.
“A false passport has been used, a photocopy of a passport that didn’t exist, was used as part of the ID in relation to it.
“It’s a substantial amount [of money], he has ties to the community, I’m not satisfied that he wouldn’t use other means and could continue, despite any provision put in his bail, to offend.”
Investigations are continuing.