Whether we’re scrolling TikToks, sharing memes on Facebook or peering into our friends' lives on Instagram, there’s no denying social media is integral to how we live today.
But one downside to the ubiquity of social networks is that it’s opened up opportunities for some of the world’s most shameless and ruthless scammers who can strike without ever having to meet their marks in person. Let’s take a look at some who’ve made the headlines.
1. Danielle Miller
Born into one of the Big Apple’s most eminent families (her attorney father was once president of the New York State Bar Association), Danielle Miller had the privileged upbringing befitting her wealth. She attended an eye-wateringly expensive private school, partied with celebrities like Paris Hilton, and, in her own words, ‘lived in a never-ending Gossip Girl episode’. But, as well as being an elite-tier socialite, she’s also, by her own admission, ‘a con artist more than anything’.
Having previously served time in prison for smaller scams, the social media influencer was hauled into court in 2021 on charges of fraudulently obtaining government loans intended to help people impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. She nabbed the loans using a succession of stolen identities, racking up more than $1 million which she then splurged on private jet travel, luxury apartment rental, and super-deluxe designer gear – all of which was flaunted on Instagram.
Prior to being arrested and subsequently handed a five-year jail sentence in September 2023, Miller had also set up an online store called ‘I Am Not An Influencer’ – a sentiment which one attorney agrees with. ‘Ms. Miller isn’t an influencer,’ the attorney told the press. ‘She is a convicted felon’.
2. The ‘pump and dump’ gang
‘We’re robbing f***ing idiots of their money’. Those words, secretly recorded by investigators, summed up the ethos of a group of eight alleged American social media scammers who were indicted in late 2022 on charges of making at least $114 million through a ‘pump and dump’ scheme.
The gang pitched themselves as fast-living, supercar-driving, devil-may-care finance bros on Twitter and Discord. However, authorities say they brazenly and knowingly over-hyped selected stocks to their armies of followers. Then, when demand drove the stock prices up, the gang would dump their assets for immense profits, causing the value of the stock to plummet.
‘The defendants used social media to amass a large following of novice investors,’ said one investigator, ‘and then took advantage of their followers by repeatedly feeding them a steady diet of misinformation.’
Hundreds of thousands of fans lapped up this misinformation, which was served up with a side helping of swaggering douchebaggery. Their insufferable tone was maintained even after the indictment, with one defendant tweeting: ‘I love my homies on here. The rest of you can keep swinging on my nuts.’
3. Doede Osman Khan
Staffordshire man Doede Osman Khan pitched himself as a crypto guru to an international followership, giving advice on how best to buy and sell Bitcoin and avoid malevolent scammers. In fact, Khan himself was the scammer, ripping off thousands of people around the world before being snared.
Under the alias ‘Danny Turner’, Khan engaged with his targets on Facebook and Telegram, making what a judge would later dub ‘outlandish claims’ about how his techniques would net his followers ‘guaranteed’ profits. Specifically, he claimed to have developed automated bots which could automatically track crypto market fluctuations and yield big returns.
Those suckered in by Khan’s charismatic, smooth-talking presentations – which would show him literally counting piles of cash – would send him money to invest using these bots. But behind the impressive-sounding tech talk, Khan was just an old-fashioned thief, pocketing the money he was sent.
A dogged investigation into Khan’s activities by some of his victims led to the scammer pleading guilty in court and being given a 15-month suspended sentence in 2023.
4. Mona Faiz Montrage
When Ghanaian singer and performer Mona Faiz Montrage was arrested in the UK in 2022, it came as a shock to her millions of followers on Instagram. Montrage – also known as ‘Mona4reall’ and ‘Hajia4reall’ – had crafted a quintessential ‘influencer’ image on the platform, flaunting designer clothes, extravagant shopping trips and opulent holidays. But investigators allege this glamorous façade concealed far more nefarious activities.
Montrage, who has since been extradited to face charges of fraud and money laundering in the United States, is alleged to be part of a shadowy group perpetrating international romance scams. These have apparently played out across social platforms and dating apps, targeting ‘vulnerable, older men and women who lived alone’.
It’s said that the operation, based in West Africa, entrapped victims using fake online profiles, social media messages and emails, deceiving them into thinking they were in genuine romantic relationships and coercing them to transfer money.
It’s even alleged that Montrage used her real name and spoke to at least one victim on the phone, convincing the person that they had been married according to tribal law in Ghana. Believing himself to be her husband, the victim proceeded to wire over $89,000 to invest in her ‘father’s farm’ in Ghana.
All in all, it’s alleged that Montrage has been in control of at least $2 million in fraudulently obtained money, which would make her one of the most significant fraudsters working within the tragically lucrative field of online romance scams.