Romance scam by NJ couple discovered after victim dies by suicide, cops say
nj.com November 29, 2023
A New Jersey couple targeted a retired Tennessee teacher in a $100,000 celebrity romance scam that was reported to investigators by his family after the 74-year-old died by suicide last month, authorities said.
The Jonesborough, Tennessee man was found dead in his home on Oct. 23, according to court papers. He had been tricked into thinking he was in a romantic relationship with a celebrity and later directed by the scammers to pay “fines” to the FBI to settle a phony sexual harassment suit, the court documents state.
Later, the man and his family were threatened by email, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
Piscataway residents Chinagorom Onwumere, 34, and Salma Abdalkareem, 27, were charged last week with three counts each of financial exploitation of an elderly/vulnerable person and two counts each of theft and criminal impersonation. Additional charges are pending.
Onwumere is a member of the Army National Guard, according to DailyBeast.com, the first to report on the details of the scam.
Onwumere and Abdalkareem are both are being held in Tennessee on $500,000 bail ahead of a detention hearing scheduled for Wednesday, the sheriff’s office said in statement.
The New Jersey pair initiated contact with the Tennessee senior citizen in August, tricking him into thinking he was corresponding with a “well-known female actress,” according to court papers.
A short time later, Onwumere and Abdalkareem began also posing as the FBI, authorities said. They contacted the man from a gmail email address, told him he was being sued for sexual harassment of the actress and said he would have to pay fines to resolve the matter, authorities said.
Onwumere and Abdalkareem then directed the man in early October to mail a check to an FBI office, which was actually their home address in Piscataway, authorities said.
The man wrote the $5,500 check out to the FBI, which lead to harsh response from the scammers, authorities said.
“The scammer scolded the victim for writing the check to the FBI stating that it would raise suspicions,” the charging document said. “The scammer stated that there would now be a $40,000 penalty since the victim did not follow directions.”
The man mailed multiple other checks to the Piscataway address, in one instance taking out a loan against his personal vehicle, authorities said. The checks totaled $87,500, the sheriff’s office said.
One of the checks was cashed at Navy Federal Credit Union on Route 34 in Colts Neck, the complaint said. Surveillance video from the credit union shows both Onwumere and Abdalkareem depositing the $41,000 check, authorities said.
Attorney information for Onwumere and Abdalkareem was not immediately available.
The man’s family members found emails related to the scams after his death and brought his tablet to authorities.
Editor’s note: NJ Advance Media typically limits reporting on suicides to those that occur in crowded public places, involve public figures or, in special circumstances, where there is a larger public impact. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors can be reduced with the proper mental health support and treatment. If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.
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