At first glance, Mona Faiz Montrage looks like any other glamorous influencer posting photos of her designer handbags and flaunting her opulent lifestyle online. But behind the screen, she was involved in a multi-million dollar romance scam that preyed on vulnerable, lonely and elderly victims in the United States, prosecutors allege.
The Ghanaian influencer, who has more than 4.2 million followers on Instagram wherever she goes “hajia4real”was extradited to the United States on Friday, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced on Monday.
Montrage, 30, allegedly scammed his followers out of more than $2 million. She has been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, money laundering conspiracy, money laundering, receiving stolen money, and conspiracy to receive stolen money. She was arrested in the UK in November, prosecutors said in a press release.
Prosecutors said she rose to fame as an Instagram influencer and was among the top 10 most followed profiles in Ghana. On his page, he shares posts about his music, trips to London, and luxury items.
Montrage made an initial court appearance Monday, where he pleaded not guilty to all charges. NBC News has reached out to his attorney for comment.
Prosecutors said she was involved in multiple romance scams targeting «vulnerable older men and women living alone» and that she obtained money from them under false pretenses.
They said that from 2013 to 2019, she was a member of a criminal operation in West Africa that committed fraud, including romance scams, against individuals and businesses in the US.
Montrage allegedly controlled bank accounts that received more than $2 million in fraudulent funds from the operation.
The operation would target victims through online dating websites and social media by using fake personas to send emails, text messages, and social media messages to trick them into believing they are in a romantic relationship. The victims were then convinced to transfer money to bank accounts controlled by members of the operation.
Scenarios used to entice victims to send money included “payments to transport gold to the United States from abroad, payments to solve a bogus FBI unemployment investigation, payments to help a bogus US Army officer receive funds.” of Afghanistan,» prosecutors said.
In one case, they said, Montrage used his real name and spoke to the victim multiple times on the phone. He even sent the person a tribal marriage certificate purporting to show that they got married in Ghana.
The victim then sent wire transfers to Montrage 82 totaling $89,000 to allegedly help her father’s farm in Ghana, prosecutors said.
The indictment alleges that Montrage received fraud proceeds from victims of the operation in bank accounts she controlled in New York City and elsewhere, and in business bank accounts opened in the name of «4Reall Designs,» an alleged design company. clothes.
Once he received the money in the accounts he controlled, he withdrew, transported and laundered those proceeds to other members of the operation, the indictment says.
Damian Williams, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said such romance scams «can be devastating both financially and emotionally for vulnerable victims.»
Michael J. Driscoll, deputy director in charge of the FBI, said Montrage often targeted elderly victims in the schemes of the operation.
“Romance scams, especially those that target seniors, are of great concern. The FBI will be relentless in our efforts to hold fraudsters accountable in the criminal justice system,” he said.
Montrage is due back in court on June 28.