Suspect Charged in Online Dating Scheme that Stole $437K From Woman: Police

Connecticut State Police have arrested a man accused in a scheme that stole more than $437,000 from a Tolland woman, according to police.

According to the arrest warrant, so-called "romance scams," which often target vulnerable populations like the elderly, are a rising problem internationally. Police believe the suspect, 32-year-old Kennard Banks, of Boynton Beach, Florida, was involved in such a scheme, which they say was run by a larger criminal organization dedicated to cybercrime.

NBC Connecticut

Police said the investigation began in January 2019 when the victim reported that she had been defrauded of $437,800 by someone she met on a dating site targeted at the 50+ age group.

According to the warrant, the victim told police that from November 7, 2018 through December 26, 2018, she wired money to two men she met online, who told her their names were Teddy Banas and Charles Zacks. The victim said she believed she was helping Banas with a business deal.

The victim's statement says that after she sent the money she discovered the businesses appeared to be fraudulent and began to suspect that the men were not who they said they were. She noted that Banas had promised to pay her back and provided her with a copy of a cashier's check for $1.45 million, which she also suspected was fake.

She also told police they were still pressuring her for more money and that Banas had implied that he was watching her house. The victim had never met either man in person and that they communicated online and by phone.

Investigators determined that the images from Banas' profile were stolen from an Instagram account.

Investigators found that Banks was tied to one of the companies that received the wired money. They also found that Banks opened a bank account tied to the wire transfers, according to the warrant.

Police located Banks and interviewed him in November 2019. He told them he had opened the bank accounts for a friend who told him a "girl" would be wiring money to the accounts. Banks told police when he saw the large amounts he grew suspicious, but he did not act on his suspicions and let the transfers continue. He also told police that his friend allowed him to keep some of the money for himself.

Banks claimed he was "not aware of the underlying elder fraud being committed," the warrant reads.

The warrant states that the friend Banks was referring to is suspected to be involved in a larger network of similar transactions through a variety of shell companies both in the US and overseas for over five years. These criminal networks, according to information provided in the warrant, operate with a hierarchy typical to large corporations and focus on cyber fraud, cyber scams and these romance scams.

Banks was charged with money laundering, first-degree larceny, and corrupt organizations and racketeering activity. He was arrested on Wednesday and held on a $500,000 bond.

Relationship scams can be reported to The Federal Trade Commission, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and the state Attorney General’s office.

For more information on romance schemes, click here.

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