5 Nigerians, 12 Thais held in romance scams

Seventeen people — five Nigerians and 12 Thais — have been arrested for allegedly swindling 48 Thai women out of almost 6 million baht via online romance scams.

Police said the suspects were members of eight different networks of con artists preying on marriage-seeking Thai women, said Pol Maj Gen Surachate Hakparn, deputy commissioner of the Tourist Police Bureau.

They were apprehended in Chon Buri, Surat Thani, Trat, Bangkok, Phitsanulok, Samut Prakan and Nakhon Si Thammarat between Aug 30 and Sept 13.

The first arrest, in Si Racha on Aug 30, involved a Thai couple, Pramot Khumhom, 58, and Panthira Khumhom, 50. An investigation found the couple had withdrawn money from ATMs for a foreign gang on several occasions.

A further investigation led to the arrest of Montra Khumhom, 34, in Sakhon Nakhon. Authorities seized 1.1 million baht from her.

In the second case, two Thai women and two Nigerian men were caught on Koh Samui on Sept 4. They were identified as Thai nationals Pennapha Nuanpan, 30, and Oraya Chantharuang, 22; and James Onwuchukwu, 28, and Chindedu Sixtus Nwaobi, both from Nigeria.

Police seized several pieces of evidence, including records of chat messages between the two Nigerian men and six victims in different provinces. The men tricked the victims into transferring money to them, after which the Thai women withdrew the money, investigators said. All told, the victims lost 292,000 baht, said Pol Maj Gen Surachate.

In the third case, Sarawut Prasertsri, 39, and Theerada Watcharaphan, 36, were caught separately in Trat on Sept 6. Police seized four ATM cards, four bank account books, mobile phones and other evidence.

The duo are accused of helping scammers fleece 17 victims out of one million baht.

In the fourth case, police arrested Kanokarn Charnkla, 25, and seized three ATM cards of other holders, two bank account passbooks of other people, a mobile phone, 74,300 baht in cash and some US dollars in the Ram Intra area of Bangkok on Sept 10. She is accused of working for a gang that cheated seven victims in Thung Song district of Nakhon Si Thammarat out of 214,000 baht.

In the fifth case, Nigerian nationals Clement Ifeamyichukhu and Simeon Chinwike Nnakwe were caught following the arrest of another suspect who was hired to withdraw money for them in Pattaya on Aug 1. Mr Ifeamyichukhu was wanted on a warrant issued by the Phitsanulok court on Aug 23.

In the sixth racket, three Thai women and one man were picked up separately in Bangkok on Sept 10.

Ramchan Detdilok, Thanyarat Kesa and Phet Kongsing had withdrawn money for scammers who had duped three victims into wiring about 1.5 million baht into the bank accounts of gang members.

In the seventh case, Ikechukwu Maxwell Uchendu, 31, a Nigerian national, was arrested at a condominium in Nonthaburi. He was wanted on a warrant issued in Samut Prakan on Feb 15 for duping a Thai woman into wiring him 987,500 million baht.

In the eighth case, Rassamee Surasen was arrested in Nakhon Si Thammarat on Sept 13 for alleged involvement with a gang that cheated a woman in Tha Sala district of the southern province out of 692,250 baht.

Pol Maj Gen Surachate said police have been busy tracking down suspects involved in online love scams since January. To date, there have been a total of 140 cases with damage amounting to 81 million baht.

The Thai suspects were involved in opening bank accounts and withdrawing money for the foreign conmen.

Pol Maj Gen Amphon Buarapporn, deputy commander of the Provincial Police Region 2, said scammers often created fake Facebook accounts using images of good-looking Western men for their profile photos. In many cases they lured women by claiming they had sent expensive gifts to them, but the women must transfer money for customs duties or taxes to obtain the items.

Peerapat Ingpongpan, deputy spokesman for the Anti-Money Laundering Office (Amlo), warned people to be careful about transferring money to strangers.

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