Federal prosecutors have accused 80 people of orchestrating an elaborate scheme to defraud at least $6 million — primarily from lonely women.
Most of the men charged are Nigerians, according to CNN. Seventeen have been arrested in the U.S. so far. They often posed as members of the U.S. military serving overseas.
"We believe this is one of the largest cases of its kind in U.S. history," U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna told CNN.
The men, using fake identities, connected with the women online, building trust before ultimately asking for or, in some instances, demanding money.
In one case documented in the indictments, a woman sent a man $200,000 over the course of just 10 months. Most of that money, made in about 40 separate payments, was borrowed from friends.
"She began crying when discussing the way that these losses have affected her," prosecutors said in court documents.
An estimated 21,000 people were conned via romance schemes in 2018, the Federal Trade Commission says, losing $143 million.