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Spanish police arrest suspect in killing of 3 siblings over debts reportedly linked to romance scam

Are you falling in love... or for a scam?
Are you falling in love... or for a scam? 05:42

Spanish police on Monday said they had arrested a Pakistani man in connection with the killing of three siblings in their 70s, over debts reportedly linked to an online romance scam.

The 43-year-old suspect had "turned himself in" on Sunday night, "admitting his involvement in incidents related to the triple murder in a house in Morata de Tajuna", a police statement said.

Judicial sources said the suspect had previously been convicted for attacking one of the sisters.

Police had on Thursday found the three bodies, which were partially burnt, lying in a heap inside their home in the village some 20 miles southeast of Madrid.

Neighbors raised the alarm after not seeing the two sisters and their disabled brother for some time, with police saying their deaths were being treated as murder over a suspected debt.

Police on Monday said the man, referred to only as D.H.F.C, was the "main suspect" in the case as he had "previously injured one of the female victims last year," with the courts confirming his arrest and conviction.

Quoting local residents, Spanish media said the tragedy was likely linked to a fake online love affair, with the two sisters embarking on what they thought was a long-distance relationship with two apparent U.S. servicemen.

They were led to believe one had died and that the other needed money so that he could send them a multi-million-dollar inheritance, causing the sisters to rack up huge debts.

Initially they began borrowing money from neighbors with the town's mayor Francisco Villalain telling Spanish media they had rented out a room in their home to the Pakistani suspect for several months.

During that time, the suspect had reportedly lent the sisters at least $55,000, which they had never repaid, prompting his violent attack on one of the sisters.  

According to a statement from the Madrid region's top court, he was arrested in February 2023 "for an offence of injury with a dangerous object involving one of the two dead women."

He was held in pre-trial detention without bail until his case came to court in September and he was sentenced to two years behind bars, slapped with a $3,150 fine and banned from being within 500 yards of the victim for two years and six months.

But under Spanish law, anyone receiving a jail term of up to two years on a first offence automatically has their sentence suspended, so he was released after agreeing to pay the compensation, the statement said.

When they called the police last week, neighbors said they hadn't seen the siblings since before Christmas.

Speaking to Spanish media, they said the sister had repeatedly asked to borrow large sums of money, refusing to believe it was a scam and saying they would pay it back when they got the $7.6 million inheritance payout.

"They weren't asking for 100 euros or 20, they were asking you for 5,000 or 6,000 euros," one neighbor had told state-owned broadcaster TVE on Friday.

Police did not comment on those reports.

Romance scams common in the U.S.

Romance scams are also not uncommon in the U.S., according to the Federal Trade Commission, and they have been on the rise in recent years.

Last month, a Texas man was sentenced to three years in federal prison for his part in a romance scam that swindled a Missouri woman out of more than $1.1 million.

Last April, a Florida woman pleaded guilty to cheating an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor out of her life savings in order to fund her luxurious lifestyle, prosecutors said. 

Another case involved a Ghanaian social media influencer who was expedited back to the U.S. from the United Kingdom after being charged for her role in a romance scam that targeted elderly Americans

In separate romance scams, a New York man was charged in connection with a scheme that deceived women out of more than $1.8 million, and a woman in California lost more than $2.3 million over five months to a con that used a fake dating app as a front, CBS Los Angeles reported.

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