PROVIDENCE, R.I. – A Brown University graduate student was charged Thursday with scamming a Florida woman out of $30,000 by telling her he wanted to open a school for poor children in Dubai.
Shishuai Li, a 25-year-old computer science student, instead used the money for tuition and living expenses, authorities said.
Li did not enter a plea during an appearance in Providence District Court on a felony state charge of obtaining money under false pretenses, according to court records. He was ordered held on $3,000 bail and made to surrender his passport. A court spokesman said Thursday no attorney had yet entered an appearance on Li’s behalf. Li did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
Police said Thursday that they believed Li was working with people in Nigeria, a haven for online scams targeting women.
“He, unfortunately, wouldn’t rat those people out to us,” Providence Police Captain Tim O’Hara said Thursday.
O’Hara said Li targeted women on the dating website Ourtime.com, which is aimed at people ages 50 and older.
“He was meeting people online, on a dating website, elderly woman, and schmoozing them, and convincing them that he was going to start a school for children in Dubai,” O’Hara said.
A partially redacted police report, first obtained by WPRI-TV and released by Providence Police to The Associated Press, said Homeland Security began investigating Li on Nov. 1, after Bank of America noticed his account had received around $181,000 in deposits from people around the U.S. Many of those people had been linked to large deposits into other accounts that were closed for bank fraud, the report said.
On Nov. 27, his account received a $30,000 deposit from a 74-year-old Orlando woman whose name is redacted in the report. The woman told investigators that she had met a man named Luiz on Ourtime.com, and he told her he was in his 60s and lived in Florida. He told her about the Dubai school for underprivileged children, and she wired him the money, the report said.
In fact, investigators said in the report, the money went to Li. He was caught on a surveillance camera making transactions with the account at an ATM near his home in Providence, the report said.
The report said that Bank of America froze Li’s account. When he called to ask about it Dec. 5, Li reportedly told the bank that the deposits were arranged by a friend who lived overseas and who was lending him money. He said he used the money to pay tuition at the Ivy League university and to pay for rent and other personal expenses, according to the report. He said “he had no idea how his friend arranges for people to deposit money into the account,” the report said.
O’Hara said the investigation had begun with the Department of Homeland Security, which then turned it over to local authorities. A spokesman for the department would not comment on the case.
Li is a first-year master’s student in computer science. The school said it learned of Li’s arrest on Wednesday.
O’Hara said he did not know Li’s nationality, but said he is in the United States on a student visa.