Years after the death of her husband, Chidinma (surname withheld) felt it was time to give love another chance. When she noticed that one of her Facebook friends was an admirer, she decided to encourage the relationship. The man seemed to be a good fit: in his late forties, a widower with two lovely children and living in the United States of America.
More so, he declared his love for her. The woman let down her guard. She bought the lie––hook, line and sinker.
Unknown to her, the picture and the voices she heard during the course of her interaction with the man were fake. The real person was a small-time fraudster who lived in Delta State, his name Sunday Ijegalu. The time the mother of three realized she had been scammed was after she had been sweet-talked into parting with her life savings worth three million naira.
Operatives of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of Lagos State Police Command who took over the case tracked the suspect to Delta State. After his arrest, it came to light that Ijegalu had been a conman of many years who had successfully duped single women and rich men through online dating. On this day of reckoning when both of them came face-to-face, they narrated their sides of the story.
Love on Facebook
Narrating her ordeal at the police station, Chidinma, aged 35, said their interaction appeared genuine until she paid the last two million naira.
Of how she found herself in such a sticky situation, she provided a backdrop: “My husband died about three years ago and left me with three children. With the business that I was doing, I am able to take care of my children and still send them to good schools. I am still young and did not mind remarrying, provided I found a good man.”
She went on to give a detailed account of her encounter with the con artist. “I was in my office sometime in June when I received a friend request from one Emmanuel Anaeke. I accepted and he started chatting with me. The display picture on his page was that of a young man and two beautiful children. When I asked him about it, he claimed he is a widower and those were his kids; he also claimed he is a business man living in California, United States of America.”
From that point, they became friends indeed. “We started chatting and I became more interested because I am a widow with three children. He wanted to know which part of Nigeria I hailed from. I told him Anambra and he was excited. He said he is also from Anambra but his mother is from Calabar.”
Inevitably, they took their friendship out of Facebook by exchanging phone numbers and Ijegalu promptly ensnared her further.
“He called me with an international line. He called more often and spoke with my kids. I was attracted to him because it’s been long since my husband died.”
The marriage proposal
The suspect, according to Chidinma, waited for a month before he proposed marriage to her. “It was so real that when he said that he wanted to marry me, I believed him.”
Afterwards, he deployed his most potent weapon: “He gave me his mother’s phone number and asked me to call her. I did and the voice was that of an old woman. She was so excited and told me that since they lost her daughter in-law that Emmanuel (Ijegalu) had never introduced another woman to her. She prayed for me and assured me that his son Emmanuel will take care of me and my children. I was happy and kept in touch with her.”
Gradually, he began to ramp up his deception. “About a week later, he told me that he was coming back to Nigeria the next week and his main aim was to visit my family and start the process of our getting married. We even agreed that it was going to be a very low key event. I was excited and later that day he sent me a picture of a Toyota Lexus Jeep which he claimed he bought for me as my wedding gift. He even showed me a receipt with my name on it.”
Having successfully prepared the stage carefully, it was time to trap the victim.
Fleecing the victim
The trap was sprung the next day. “The next day he called me around 8 pm screaming that his mother was involved in an accident and that they are demanding for N400, 000 to buy blood and commence treatment. He pleaded for my assistance as he could not transfer money at that time of the night. I was willing to help, so I sent money to a man whom he introduced to me as a doctor. The man sent the account number and I did money transfer through my phone.”
Chidinma was none the wiser. “I also kept calling and spoke with his mother who prayed and thanked me for saving her life,” she said, “he assured me that as soon as he arrives three days later he will refund. I agreed with hope that he is real,” she said.
Three days later, he called to inform her that he had arrived and was heading to Calabar to see his mother.
“I was worried that he did not wait to see me first since he landed at Lagos airport but he explained that he had already booked a direct flight to Calabar,” she narrated.
He tried his best to dispel her fear or suspicion: “He assured me that we will see the next day as he would fly to Lagos. I also spoke to the mother through his phone. I was so happy and informed my family that the man who promised to marry me was in town.”
Oddly, she got no phone call from him the next day. Neither his line nor his mother’s went through. This would worry a woman in love. Hence, when the next call came she was game for a swindle.
“Suddenly, I got a call and a man was shouting that they are going to kill my fiancé. I could hear his voice in the background screaming that they should not kill him. I started begging. They allowed him to talk to me. He was crying and said that he was kidnaped. He told me they demanded N20million and he had given them N18million. He asked me to help him with the balance. My concern at that point was to save him. The kidnappers gave me an account number and I transferred N2million.”
As soon as they confirmed that they have gotten the money, they switched off the phone. Chidinma also discovered that all the phone numbers that she had including the mother were no longer available. At that point, the reality dawned on her, She went back to Facebook and discovered that the page no longer exist.
“It was after he was arrested by SARS that I got to know that I was duped by a young man. I am happy that they have arrested him, I pray that police can recover part of my money because I can hardly feed my children.”
A fraudster who preyed on women
Ijegalu, a native of Enugu State, knew when the game is up. He made no effort to conceal his crime. To the police, he made a clean breast of it, that he was the only one who planned and defrauded the widow. He had simply used a phone application that changes voice.
In telling his story, he blamed his decision to walk the path of crime on his challenging fate. He said: “I am 25 and based in Delta State. I dropped out of primary school because of financial difficulty. I was sent to Onitsha to learn a trade. I learnt spare part business and was settled after seven years. I started a small shop but Governor Peter Obi destroyed our market and I lost everything. With the little money I had left, I bought a car and went into transport business. Unfortunately, I lost it to a fraudster who came up with a big business idea.”
What was left of his money was expended to get a visa to travel to Austria in 2017 but he appeared jinxed. “The man who was to pick me up was nowhere to be found. I was stranded and police men at the airport noticed what happened, they deported me,” he narrated.
Back in the country, he turned to his friend who was earning online scam. From him, he learnt the dirty tricks and subsequently put his new skills to work.
He recounted: “There is a phone that has an application that you can use to fake another person’s voice. There is another that can help you call an individual and an international phone number will show. I opened a Facebook account, downloaded picture of a man and his children from another Facebook account. I studied that account and discovered that the person is actually based in California, a widower with two kids. I transferred most of his pictures to my wall and used it to send several friend requests to people. Luckily, one widow in Nigeria became interested and we started chatting. She told me how she had been alone since the death of her husband. I knew that all she needed was a man, so I proposed marriage.
I knew that most women will take you serious as soon as they speak with your mother. Using the phone app, I called her with the voice of an old woman. I assured her she was the first woman my son was introducing to her. She was so happy and that week, I told her that it was my mother’s birthday and she sent money to her.”
Like a spider that had trapped a fly in its cobweb, Ijegalu moved in for the kill. He devised means to extort money from his victim. “I kept devising means to make her spend money on my mother and I supplied the account number, normally if you are not fast, they will discover and back out. Since I promised her marriage, she was already excited and was ready to do anything to make it a reality. To further confuse her, I assured her that we were going to relocate to the US with her entire family. She wanted it and was ready to do all it takes. I told her that I was in the country to marry her. Two days to the agreed date, I called her with the same app and this time sounded like a thug. I told her that I was kidnapped and needed money to complete the money that I had already given them.”
Once she paid the money, he was done with her. “I switched off my phone,” he said.
Nonetheless, the fairy tale came to an end with grave consequences for him. Now that he found himself on the wrong side of the law, Ijegalu said he felt sorry. For himself or the woman? He did not tell.
He said instead: “If police should let me go, I might raise money to pay her back.”