On a day when stars seemed at peace, Elsa (who requested that we use only her first name) fell for the oldest wooing trick in the game of romance. Sometimes, when a man wants to strike up a conversation with a lady, he pretends to know her from somewhere. Depending on her mood and response, he continues with his frolic.
Well, the 25-year-old student and fashion entrepreneur Elsa was in a good mood when Odalo contacted her; she responded nicely. It was April 17, 2022, and Odalo had sent her a Twitter (now X) direct message: “Heyy, did you attend MMAS by any chance?”
“Hiya, I’m a bit unsure what MMAS is,” Elsa responded.
“Lol, then it’s definitely not you. You look like a primary school classmate who used to tease me about my glasses so much; Murtala Muhammed Airport School,” Odalo wrote, asserting she doesn’t know him but at the same time introducing an interesting detail about his past.
Iriodalo Emmanuel Obhafuoso (Odalo) has been accused of cajoling women into sending him money by claiming a deadly illness. So, when DUBAWA came across his story on Twitter from some of his victims, we decided to investigate the depth of his relationship with Elsa, his tactics, and his claims.
The bait, the baiter, and the baited
Elsa recounted to DUBAWA what ensued after the few minutes of her conversation with Odalo.
“After confirming I wasn’t the person he knew, he said, since I am here, let’s continue the conversation. So, we spoke for about a week before he said he had something to tell me. But before he brought it up, we have been talking every day,” she said.
Elsa and Odalo developed a friendship similar to a relationship between April and July of 2022. They talked a lot through consistent voice and video calls. However, because Odalo claimed to reside in Benin, she could not meet him in person. Their lack of physical meeting made Elsa hesitant to “officially date him,” but Odalo assured her they would soon meet as he plans to be in Lagos soon because of a problem he needed to solve.
Like Lord Baelish, the cunning fictional character in the Game of Thrones, Odalo didn’t reveal his problem to Elsa immediately, but when prodded, “How are you,” he responded, “I’m not fine. I haven’t been fine.”
In the evening of that day, Elsa pushed again. She was curious to know what was wrong with her friend, maybe her lover.
Odalo replied that he was very ill and had a heart condition. He also sent an echocardiography report as proof.
“The right side of my heart is swollen. It became pretty serious over the past few days,” he said.
He claimed he was in pain, the pills he had been taking weren’t helping him much, and that he needed surgery worth N3.3 million to remove “blood clots and reduce swelling.”
He further claimed that he had most of the money and needed N200,000 as balance – a manipulative strategy skilled scammers use to make victims feel at ease by acting like they have money and only need a little help.
Again, his tactic worked. Elsa asked for his account details, which he provided swiftly.
The account details he sent were: 0768696473, Access Bank, Obhafuoso Emmanuel Iriodalo.
Romance Scam: The beginning of billing
The moment Odalo sent his account details was the beginning of Elsa’s spending in a bid to get him healthy. Elsa said she crowdfunded about N30,000 for him on Twitter, but it was barely enough to cover his alleged health expenses, so she also sent him some of her savings. Elsa sent Odalo over N397,000 before she realised she was being scammed.
“Sixty thousand naira on April 29. That was the first money I sent. (I also sent) N26,000 on April 30. There was N20,000 on May 1st, N225,000 for the balance of surgery, and N66,000 for drugs on the 6th of July. There were some 1k sprinkled here and there,” Elsa recounted.
One morning in July, he expressed his love and gratitude to her:
“I love you. Thank you for being by my side this past couple of months. I really appreciate you.”
‘Every day is for the thief, but one day is for the owner’
During the relationship, Elsa said she always felt something was not right, but she couldn’t pinpoint it until one day when a mutual friend of hers and Odalo reached out.
“She said she saw that I tweeted something about how one of my friends has a heart condition and that she just put two and two together and that it is the picture of the person I tweeted about. She sent me a picture of Odalo, and I confirmed it was him. She then said okay, that they went to secondary school together, and they just found out he was a scam, and some boys in secondary school had gone to confront him,” Elsa said.
After the revelation, Elsa said she waited for Odalo to confess his fraudulent nature to her, but he never did. Suspecting he may never be honest, she confronted him. Days after the confrontation, in a message that appeared to be emotionally blackmailing, Odalo apologised for hurting her and lying to her to acquire money. He reassured her of his love and promised to be a better person.
Upon the confession, Elsa said she stopped sending him money. She also tried to forgive him and stay as friends, but she eventually blocked him as more secrets were unveiled.
“I genuinely tried to forgive him,” she told DUBAWA. “I thought it was a one-off thing, and I was the only woman. We weren’t texting as often because how I felt about him had drastically changed. I finally blocked him in December because I did not want to have any communication with him again,” she said.
Elsa stated that she deleted the crowdfunding message on social media and asked people not to send money to the account anymore. She also exposed him as a con artist.
“He was in my DM too”
Odalo appears to use social engineering, a tactic used to manipulate people into making errors and giving away their valuables. After scrutinising the bios of the over 20 women on Twitter who said Odalo had contacted them too, we observed that he targets women in their 20s who have “entrepreneurs” in their profile or are vendors. Some of their stories can be found here, here, and here.
His strategies, when dealing with the women, appear identical. After forming a relationship, he sends a charming message, then claims he has a heart disease or any similar deadly illness. Odalo’s modus operandi transcends Twitter; he also shared his alleged illness with his contacts on WhatsApp.
One of his female friends, Gloria, after learning that he needed funds for a “heart surgery,” sent him N10,000.
“I have a story with this guy too. It’s sad mehn. I have known him for a long while as an artist & a friend. I’ll post my last chats I had with him. I sent him money too out of pity,” Gloria said.
Like he did with Elsa, Odalo sends an “Echocardiography Report” as evidence of his heart disease to possibly earn trust.
According to the National Library of Medicine, Echocardiography involves using ultrasound to evaluate the structural components of the heart in a minimally invasive strategy. The procedure allows the clinician to obtain real-time sizes, structure, and function of the heart during the cardiac cycle.
DUBAWA contacted a medical practitioner, Dr Richard Ogunlusi, to verify if Odalo’s Echocardiography report was genuine and if Odalo indeed had a heart disease.
“It’s difficult to say without seeing the patient and running another test elsewhere. The result could have been doctored. The ladies need to take him for an independent Echo/ECG test elsewhere to be sure,” the Public Health Medicine specialist, Dr Ogunlusi, said.
DUBAWA also contacted Lutron Medical Centre, where Odalo allegedly took the report and whose letterhead carried the result.
The Human Resources Manager of the private healthcare, Lotachukwu Ezeanom, after an internal investigation, told DUBAWA that although the report possibly emanated from their centre, the details, including the person’s name, have been altered. She further highlighted that the conditions diagnosed do not require surgery.
Forensic Analysis of Odalo’s “Echocardiography Report”
Various editing tools, including Photoshop and Affinity Photo, can be employed to manipulate images, while documents can be altered using modern apps with powerful personal items like Almanac.
So, to ascertain if Odalo forged his echocardiography report, DUBAWA used the digital image forensics tool Forensically, to analyse it. A clone detection analysis with the tool showed that the document contained significant noise levels, meaning it had been manipulated. Consistent with Lutron’s hospital staff comment, details of the result have been altered at different points, particularly on the first page, where Odalo’s details appeared.
Also, DUBAWA observed that there was neither a signature nor stamp on the document to ascertain that it had originated from the medical centre. The test date was also missing, suggesting it had been cut out, blurred, or unclear.
Odalo’s action is romance fraud, and here’s why
After investigating the authenticity of Odalo’s “heart result” from Lutron Medical Centre, and forensically, it is apparent that the document he presents as evidence is forged, and his “heart surgery” story is also fabricated.
However, when this reporter asked Elsa if she reported the case to the authorities, she responded in the negative.
“I have not attempted to report him to the authorities because, technically, he did not steal from me. I gave him the money freely,” she explained.
Elsa and many people may not realise that Odalo’s gesture is textbook “romance fraud.”
“Unfortunately, the Nigerian constitution does not define romance fraud or make provisions for it. Victims can only seek redress through another window like deceit or fraud,” lawyer Ifiok Uko said, reacting to DUBAWA’s findings.
However, Section 14(2) of the Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act 2015 has been used to prosecute such people in the past.
“Any person who with intent to defraud sends electronic message materially misrepresents any fact or set of facts upon which reliance the recipient or another person is caused to suffer any damage or loss, commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not less than 5 years and to a fine of not less than N10,000,000.00 or to both fine and imprisonment,” the Act states.
In recent past, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has also prosecuted romance scammers based on this act. Some cases can be found here and here.
DUBAWA sent a brief of our findings about Odalo to EFCC to inspire enforcement.
Amidst the mask and lies, who is Odalo?
DUBAWA contacted Odalo through multiple channels. He declined the calls we put through to him and has failed to respond to our messages and emails. He has also since deactivated the account linked to him, “@metaphourr,” on Twitter.
It is not certain who he truly is, as he shares different stories with multiple women. However, according to public records on YouTube, Odalo appears to be a rapper. He featured in the 2019 song “The Martell cypher.” Identifying as “Odyssey,” he rapped from 2:25 minutes to 3:46 in the 5-minute song.
He also attended the University of Benin Demonstration Secondary School (UDSS). In a footage published on Twitter, Odalo ‘admitted to dupping the UDSS 14’ set of their money– over N400,000 for an alleged surgery.”
Although Elsa would rather forget the ordeal Odalo put her through, there is room for victims to seek justice for romance scams in the country.
Elsa was embarrassed by the incident and has experienced severe mental and emotional stress. She told DUBAWA that she doesn’t believe in helping people anymore, particularly strangers.
“Right now, I don’t give anybody anything. I don’t care who you are,” Elsa said.
For Gloria, who sent Odalo N10,000, the experience has made her question her approach to people. “People like this (Odalo) make you question being a good person.”
Dr Ola Ibigbami, a mental health specialist and public health advocate, advised that victims who have suffered from romance scams can deal with the aftermath by focusing on their well-being, noting red flags for future occurrence, and surrounding themselves with supportive people.
“Seek your well-being first by taking time out to heal, spend quality time with good people, not necessarily the opposite sex, believe that other relationships will come with good benefits, have a checklist of what you really want in a relationship and don’t compromise!,” said Dr Ibigbami.