CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Michael Moore, 38, a Liberian national residing in Darby, Pennsylvania, has been arrested on federal charges for his involvement in an online romance scam that targeted older adults, announced William T. Stetzer, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. The criminal indictment was unsealed following Moore’s initial appearance in federal court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Ronnie Martinez, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Charlotte, and Barry Chastain, Port Director of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Area in Charlotte join Acting U.S. Attorney Stetzer in making today’s announcement.
According to allegations contained in the indictment, beginning in January 2016, Moore and others engaged in a fraudulent scheme to defraud unsuspecting victims, some of whom were elderly, by perpetrating an online romance scam. The indictment alleges that Moore and his co-conspirators generally targeted victims through Facebook and other social media platforms with false promises of a romantic relationship. Moore and others allegedly communicated with the victims via emails, text messages, and phone calls, and purported to be in a romantic relationship with the victims, when in reality no such relationship existed. The indictment alleges that Moore and his co-conspirators used a number of lies to steal the victims’ money, including that the money was needed to obtain travel documents or to release funds held by customs officials. In this manner, according to the indictment, Moore and his co-conspirators obtained over $1.5 million from at least 30 victims.
Moore is charged with two counts of making a false statement to an agency of the United States, which carries a maximum prison term of five years and a $250,000 fine. The indictment alleges that Moore lied to CBP officers and ICE-HSI agents when he was questioned at Charlotte Douglas International Airport about the source of the $75,000 in cash found in his possession, and later, Moore made false statements and representations on a federal form in an attempt to conceal that the money had come from a defrauded victim. Moore is also charged with wire fraud, which carries a maximum prison term of 20 years and a $250,000 fine.
The details contained in this indictment are allegations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
In making today’s announcement, Acting U.S. Attorney Stetzer thanked CBP and HSI for handling the investigation that led to the federal charges.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sanjeev Bhasker and Maria Vento, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte, are in charge of the prosecution.
In March 2019, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the Elder Justice Initiative, which aims to combat elder financial exploitation by expanding efforts to investigate and prosecute financial scams that target seniors; educate older adults on how to identify scams and avoid becoming victims of financial fraud; and promote greater coordination with law enforcement partners. For more information please visit: https://www.justice.gov/usao-wdnc/elder-justice-initiativehttps://www.justice.gov/usao-wdnc/elder-justice-initiative
Some examples of financial scams targeting seniors are:
- Lottery phone scams – in which the callers convince seniors that a large fee or taxes must be paid before they can receive lottery winnings.
- Grandparent scams – which convince seniors that their grandchildren are in trouble and need money to make rent, repair a car, or even money for bail.
- Romance scams – which lull victims to believe that their online paramour needs funds for a U.S. visit or some other purpose.
- IRS imposter scams – which defraud victims by posing as IRS agents and claiming that victims owe back taxes.
- Sham business opportunities – which convince victims to invest in lucrative business opportunities or investments.
To avoid falling victim to a financial scam:
- Don’t share personal information with anyone you don’t know.
- Don’t pay a fee for a prize or lottery winning.
- Don’t click on pop-up ads or messages.
- Delete phishing emails and ignore harassing phone calls.
- Don’t send gift cards, checks, money orders, wire money, or give your bank account information to a stranger.
- Don’t fall for a high-pressure sales pitch or a lucrative business deal.
- If a scammer approaches you, take the time to talk to a friend or family member.
- Keep in mind that if you send money once, you’ll be a target for life.
- Remember, it’s not rude to say, “NO.”
- A good rule of thumb is, if it’s too good to be true, it’s likely a scam.
If you have been contacted by a scammer or believe you have fallen victim to a scam, please contact the Justice Department’s Elder Fraud Hotline at 1-833-Fraud-11 (1-833-372-8311). The National Elder Fraud hotline was created for the public to report fraud against individuals who are age 60 or older. The hotline is open seven days a week. For more information about the hotline, please visit https://stopelderfraud.ovc.ojp.gov/.