A federal jury convicted a Silver Spring man Wednesday in a case that proves “catfishing” can cause more than emotional pain to victims.
Evans Appiah, 27, was found guilty in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt of defrauding male and female victims of $600,000 in an Internet romance scheme that escalated from contact made through emails and instant messages via online dating websites to telephone calls and text messages. Once Appiah gained the trust of his victims, he would tell them false stories to convince them to send him money, according to federal prosecutors.
Appiah faces 20 years in prison for one count of conspiracy as well as 20 years for each of two counts of wire fraud and mail fraud. He also faces a mandatory minimum of two years in prison for aggravated identity theft. He’s scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 29.
Appiah’s case illustrates one of the negative effects of catfishing—a relatively new category of fraud that’s become more and more prevalent with the rise of social media. To catfish someone is to misrepresent yourself—such as by setting up false Facebook or Match.com profiles—in order to perpetuate a romantic relationship online with a stranger. The term was coined by the popular MTV show, Catfish, which continues to investigate cases on behalf of possible victims in its episodes.
Federal prosecutors said in a press release Wednesday that once Appiah received the money in wire transfers or cashier’s checks from his victims, he would deposit it into one of several bank accounts he opened. Then he would transfer the money to other accounts he controlled or use it to buy goods that he then shipped outside of the United States.
Prosecutors said Appiah defrauded at least seven victims while running the scheme from December 2013 through June 2015. Prosecutors did not describe how Appiah was able to persuade the victims to give him money and court documents available in a federal online database did not reveal the specifics of the online conversations.