A Virginia man pleaded guilty on Tuesday to being part of a scam that entailed posing as women on a dating app to swindle sailors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Samari Smith, 20, of Newport News, and at least four co-conspirators pretended to be women looking for a romantic relationship on Tinder, according to a Justice Department release.
The case is reminiscent of “The Tinder Swindler,” an Israeli man who allegedly swindled $10 million out of several women he met on Tinder and became a sensation after an eponymous documentary was released on Netflix in February.
From approximately April to August of 2021, Smith targeted at least four sailors — three low-ranking petty officers and one seaman apprentice — stationed in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area, which is home to several naval installations.
Impersonating Navy Federal Credit Union employees, the conspirators’ end goal was to obtain information from account holders to access their accounts, Smith acknowledged in court documents.
In numerous scenarios, the swindlers, posing as women on the app — at least one was under the name “Ariella” — would demonstrate romantic interest in sailors. Once matched, the members of the conspiracy would then ask their targets for help transferring money from a fictitious sister in the Navy.
Typically, the conspirators transferred money from the NFCU accounts to the sailors, claiming that it was money from the sister, and asked the sailors to send them the money. Believing they were legitimately helping a romantic interest’s relative, the sailors each transferred the conspiracy thousands of dollars, which often came from other illegally accessed accounts, according to court documents.
Smith’s role in the conspiracy led to more than $40,000 in fraud losses, he admitted in court documents.
Smith was indicted and arrested in July. After pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud, Smith faces a maximum of 30 years in prison and $1,000,000 in fines. He is scheduled to be sentenced in January 2023.
Two co-conspirators previously pleaded guilty, including ringleader Trequan Smith, 21, and Emani Burton, 23, both of Hampton, Virginia, according to the Justice Department release.
Assistant U.S. Attorney D. Mack Coleman for the Eastern District of Virginia is prosecuting the case.
Smith’s attorney, Nicholas Hobbs, did not respond to a request for comment as of publication.
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.