A Ghanaian social media influencer has been extradited from the United Kingdom to the United States for her role in a $2 million romance scam targeting older Americans.
On Monday, federal prosecutors charged Mona Faiz Montrage, 30, of Accra, Ghana, with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, money laundering conspiracy and money laundering, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, according to a news release from the Department of Justice.
Montrage, a popular Instagram influencer under the username “Hajia4Reall,” is also charged with receipt of stolen money, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and conspiracy to receive stolen money, which has a maximum sentence of five years in prison, prosecutors said. She was among the top 10 profiles with the most followers in Ghana at 3.4 million.
The 30-year-old was a member of a West African criminal enterprise from around 2013 through 2019 and committed fraud against individuals and businesses in the United States.
Prosecutors said the victims of the romance scams were vulnerable, older men and women who lived alone. The con artists initiated the romance scams by allegedly sending emails, text messages and social media messages. They also used fake identities leading the victims to believe they were in legit romantic relationships with them.
The scammers gained the victims’ trust and convinced them, under pretenses, to transfer large amounts of money to bank accounts they thought were managed by their partners. Instead, the bank accounts belonged to the criminal enterprise members.
Montrage received money from several victims and tricked them into believing the funds transported gold to the United States from overseas, resolved a fake FBI unemployment investigation and assisted a fake U.S. Army officer in receiving funds from Afghanistan.
Prosecutors said Montrage controlled bank accounts that received over $2 million in fraudulent funds.
When communicating with one of the victims, the 30-year-old used her real name several times over the phone. She then sent a marriage certificate, claiming the two had wed in Ghana.
According to prosecutors, the victim sent Montrage 82 transfers to the bank account totaling $89,000, claiming the funds were supposed to help her father’s farm in Ghana.
“Romance scams — especially those that target older individuals — are of major concern. The FBI will be tireless in our efforts to hold fraudsters accountable in the criminal justice system,” FBI Assistant Director in Charge Michael J. Driscoll said.
In a statement, Montrage’s attorney, Adam Cortez, spoke about the charges against his client.
“At this time all we know is that there are six alleged victims and only two dealt with a woman and only one of them claims that he dealt with Ms. Montrage,” he told the New York Post.
The outlet reported that he couldn’t “comment further” until prosecutors submit more evidence.