Influencer accused of romance scams to trick elderly by posing as a soldier in Afghanistan
Stars and Stripes May 16, 2023
A prominent Instagram influencer from Ghana has been accused of posing as a U.S. soldier as part of a scheme to bilk elderly Americans out of $2 million, the Justice Department said.
Mona Faiz Montrage, 30, is charged with six felony counts related to fraud, money laundering, and the receiving and selling of stolen money, federal prosecutors said Monday.
She pleaded not guilty to all counts in a New York federal court Monday.
One of several schemes involving Montrage and her conspirators tricked people into believing they were sending money to a lover who was an officer in Afghanistan, a recently unsealed indictment said.
Montrage, an Accra, Ghana-based social media influencer with 4.2 million followers on Instagram, arrived in America last Friday, a statement from prosecutors in the southern district of New York said Monday.
She had been extradited from the United Kingdom, where she had been arrested in November, the statement said.
“As alleged, Mona Faiz Montrage was a member of a criminal conspiracy that specifically targeted older Americans through romance scams,” U.S. attorney Damian Williams said.
From 2013 to 2019, members of the group assumed false identities to build faux-romantic relationships with victims, before asking them to send money, the unsealed indictment said.
Victims were told that they needed to send money to help a U.S. Army officer retrieve funds from Afghanistan, to help transport gold to America from overseas and to provide payments to resolve an FBI investigation, the indictment said.
Montrage at one point sent a victim a tribal marriage certificate purporting to show that they had been married in Ghana, the indictment said. It was part of correspondence that led to approximately 82 wire transfers totaling about $89,000 that the victim hoped would help with costs at Montrage’s family’s farm, the document said.
Sometimes, the elderly victims received money from the schemes, court documents said. It was part of a system to launder the money by sending gains from other scams into a victim’s bank account, which would then lead to a request to send that money elsewhere.
Money from the schemes flowed into Montrage’s bank accounts in New York, including into accounts with the same name as her clothing company, the indictment said.
Montrage faces charges with a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison.