Look out for people on dating apps who offer investment opportunities too good to be true.
That’s the message from the District Attorney’s Office in New York City, which recently brought charges against a lying Lothario they allege swindled his lovers out of millions.
Nelson Counne, who also goes by “Nelson Roth” or “Justin Roth,” was indicted in a Manhattan court for bilking more than $1.8 million from five women through a series of romance and investment scams.
“He allegedly fed lie after lie to women he falsely claimed to have a romantic interest in, enticing them with investment opportunities that never existed while using their funds to repay past victims, lure in new ones, and fund his lifestyle,” said District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr.
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Dating for dollars
Counne, 69, met most of his victims via online dating sites, where he posed as a wealthy retired art dealer and investor with homes in London, Manhattan, and the South of France, according to the indictment.
In reality, Counne doesn’t own any homes and never travels internationally—he doesn’t even have a passport. His sole source of income was the money he stole from his lovers between 2012 and 2021.
The scam worked like this: After winning his victims’ affection and trust, Counne convinced many of them to invest with him. He never shared any details of his business dealing, claiming the investments were in a “gray area between legal and illegal” and that he had access to inside information.
Some of his phony investments included Alibaba and a start-up purportedly run by a former Google executive, which would provide an online lottery that potential college students could pay to enter for a chance to win tuition coverage.
“Most of the victims were initially hesitant, but Counne persisted until each agreed to invest,” according to a press release by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
A Ponzi scheme
The DA alleges that Counne ran a classic Ponzi scheme, using the money from one of his marks to pay another. This enabled him to appear wealthy to new victims and repay previous victims suspicious of his fraud.
Counne now faces charges of scheme to defraud in the first degree, grand larceny in the second degree, and grand larceny in the third degree.
Romance scams like this are not uncommon. In 2021, some 24,000 victims reported losing approximately $1 billion to romance scams, according to the FBI.