Since he left scamming, he's spoken out against the practice. But based on his account, the fraud playbook he followed has not changed. He agreed to talk on the condition that he would not be identified by name. Typically, scams are advance-fee frauds — variations of the age-old "Spanish prisoner" gambit, which promises riches to unsuspecting strangers in exchange for a modest payment. Sent first as printed letters, then as faxes and emails purporting to be from Nigerian officials, these offers are now part of Internet lore. Indeed, they're so well known that ers have adopted a more effective variation — mining dating sites for targets of romance scams.
Impostor scams can flourish wherever the Internet exists Eastern Europe and Russia are also hot spots , but most dating fraud originates in Nigeria and Ghana, or in countries such as Malaysia and the U. In fast-developing parts of the world with high unemployment, a large percentage of English-speaking young men, and a postcolonial legacy of political instability and corruption, playing the game can be a tempting way out.
That's when he drifted in with the legions of other young Nigerian men known as Yahoo Boys, named for their preference for free Yahoo. He learned the con from an older mentor, and he, in turn, passed on his skills to younger friends.
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Enitan describes a three-stage model. Using stolen credit card numbers, the scammer would flood dating sites with fake profiles. Victims can be found anywhere — scammers also forage for connections on social media — but dating services provide the most fertile territory. Profile photos are pirated from social media or other dating sites.
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To snare women, he'd pose as older men, financially secure and often in the military or in engineering professions. For male victims, he just needed a photo of an alluring younger woman: "Guys are easier to convince — they're a bit desperate for beautiful girls. All his victims, Enitan says, described themselves as divorced or widowed. Ideally, the prospective victim makes the first move. Grooming the victim begins in the second stage. After learning everything he can about his target, he would launch a campaign of love notes and gifts.
It feels like the universe is manifesting my perfect partner right before my very eyes. Prayers answered and yes it does seem like we have known each other a long time. Amy wrote that seven days after receiving the first message from Dwayne. They were on the phone for hours every day at this point. His was the first voice she heard in the morning, and the last before bed. Typically, Amy would talk and text with him until about 11 a. Around 8 p. In their emails, they filled pages with minutiae about their lives — her upcoming holiday trip to Sarasota, Florida, with a girlfriend; his visit to a textile museum in Kuala Lumpur.
Mixed amid this were Dwayne's increasingly ardent declarations of affection:. Last night, in my dreams, I saw you on the pier. The wind was blowing through your hair, and your eyes held the fading sunlight. Florid passages like that did not spring from Dwayne's imagination.
He cribbed them from the Internet. Still, on Amy those words cast a powerful spell. That's how she thinks of it now — it was like a switch flicked in her head. She'd been in love before. But this was different, a kind of manic euphoria. Are you real? Will you appear someday. Or are you just a beautiful, exotic dream … if you are … I don't want to wake up! At the core of every romance scam is the relationship itself, a fiction so improbable that most of us initially marvel in disbelief: How do you fall in love — really fall in love — with someone you never meet?
Until the term "catfishing" crept into the vernacular, love affairs with digital impostors were little-known phenomena. The term comes from the documentary film Catfish , about a man with a girlfriend who, we learn, does not exist; it later inspired an MTV series. Pretending to be someone else online is a social media parlor game among some young people. But Amy had never seen the show or heard the term; she had no idea the practice was so common. Computer-mediated relationships, she says, can be "hyperpersonal — more strong and intimate than physical relationships.
Research has shown that certain personality types are particularly vulnerable to romance scams. Unsurprisingly, age is a factor: Not only are older victims more likely to lose larger sums of money, there's evidence that our ability to detect deception declines with age. But when she surveyed scam victims in the U. These people tended to describe themselves as romantics and risk takers, believers in fate and destiny.
Many, like Amy, were survivors of abusive relationships. Women were actually slightly less likely to be scammed than men — but were far more likely to report and talk about it. The other term that Amy would later learn is "love bombing. In both situations, the victim's defenses are broken down by exhaustion, social isolation and an overwhelming amount of attention. Amy would later describe the feeling as akin to being brainwashed. This is the painstaking grooming process that Enitan calls "taking the brain. When she came home from her trip to Florida over the holidays, Amy found a bouquet of flowers waiting for her, and a note:.
Not long after this, slightly less than a month since his first contact, Dwayne brought up his money troubles. But some components he purchased from Hong Kong were stuck in customs. He didn't need money, he assured her — he had a hefty trust fund in the U. But he couldn't use his funds to cover the customs fees.
And he couldn't come back to Virginia until he finished the job. He was stuck. So, if there was any way Amy could help him out, he'd pay her back when he returned to the States. When Amy asked for proof of his identity, Dwayne sent copies of his passport and financial documents. All were fake. Finally, Dwayne set a day for his flight home and emailed his itinerary. He'd be there January Amy even bought tickets for their first real date — a Latin dance concert in a nearby city that night.
And she told her brothers and her friends that they would finally get to meet this mystery boyfriend. But first, another problem came up: He had to pay his workers. She had the money. And Dwayne knew it. Not exactly how much, perhaps. But he knew she owned her home and two other properties.
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He knew that her mother and husband had recently died. And he knew she was in love. January 25 came and went. A new problem delayed him; Amy took one of her friends to the concert. Dwayne apologized profusely and sent her more flowers, again with the promise to pay her back. Soon, he needed more money. This part of the con follows a familiar pattern. The scammer promises a payoff — a face-to-face meeting — that forever recedes as crises and logistical barriers intervene.
As February wore on, Amy was still telling friends that Dwayne was coming in a matter of days or weeks. But she never mentioned the money she was lending him. It's not that she was intentionally misleading anyone. Petition online dating sites to help stop scammers. She'd get it back as soon as he came, of course. When doubt started to creep into her mind, she would look at his pictures or read his messages.
Still, almost in spite of herself, she wondered. Little things seemed odd. Sometimes, out of the blue, he'd fire off a series of rapid-fire instant messages—"oh baby i love you" and so forth. It felt almost like she was talking to someone else. Another time, she asked what he had for dinner and was surprised to hear his answer—stir-fried chicken. To her relief, she got a photo moments later. There he was, sitting on a bench in the sun on the other side of the world.
Psychologists call this "confirmation bias" — if you love someone, you look for reasons they are telling the truth, not reasons they are lying. We tend to find what we are looking for. And Amy was looking, desperately, for reasons to trust Dwayne, because the money was really adding up. Besides, he'd be there on February She planned to make dinner for him that first night. She bought all his favorite foods — fresh salmon, sourdough bread, a nice Merlot.
The trip would take more than a day: He had to fly to Beijing, then Chicago, and finally connect to Virginia. He'd call her as soon as he got to Chicago. His last message was a brief text that he said he sent from the airport in Kuala Lumpur. Then, when the day finally came, Amy's phone remained silent, despite her efforts to get in touch.
Something must have gone wrong. Why hadn't he called or texted her back? He always called. She tried to tamp down the pinpricks of panic. When she collapsed into bed that night, she thought about how this had been the first day in almost three months that they hadn't spoken. Dwayne finally contacted Amy three days later.
He sent a single text. Something about being held up by immigration at the airport in Kuala Lumpur and needing money to bribe the officials. This was the third time that Dwayne had failed to show, the third last-minute catastrophe. Still, she wired him the money. Amy's sister-in-law was the first to figure it out. Phil show, in which the TV therapist confronted two women who claimed to be engaged to men they'd met online. Amy watched in growing horror.
This was the same Beijing-bound route Dwayne had planned to be on earlier. As the story of the vanished airliner filled the airwaves, Amy couldn't help but worry that Dwayne had been aboard — maybe he'd managed to take a later flight? Finally, he called her. But the call went to her home landline, not the mobile phone she'd been using. They spoke for only a few moments before it broke up. She was relieved but also disturbed — and curious. Something was different. The daily siege of calls and emails and messages had ended.
Suddenly, she wasn't tied up for hours every day. Alone with her thoughts for the first time in months, everything about their relationship seemed to blur. One by one, she started feeding the photos Dwayne had sent her into Google's image search, trying to trace where else they might have come from.
Eventually, up popped the LinkedIn page of a man with a name she'd never heard. Whoever Dwayne was, this wasn't him. She Googled "romance scam" and started reading. Even as she discovered the truth, part of her held out hope that her case was somehow different — that she was the lucky one. But the spell had broken. It was like waking up from a deep sleep — those strange moments when the dream dissolves and the real world comes rushing back.
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Oh, God. How much? Looking at the numbers, the figure seemed unreal. If you peruse the archives of Romancescams. In a decade, the site has collected about 60, reports, from men and women, young and old. There's no way. Discover great deals and savings with AARP membership. Some of the most aggressive efforts to track down scammers have come from Australia. Brian Hay, head of the fraud unit of the Queensland Police Service in Brisbane, has orchestrated sting operations that have led to the arrest of about 30 scammers based in Malaysia or Nigeria.
But so dim are the chances of successfully finding offenders that, he admits, he rarely tells victims about these prosecutions: "I don't want to get their hopes up. Hay has also built a close relationship with Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission EFCC , which was established in , in part to rein in the country's rampant culture.
He's inspected the computer logs of scam operations, where teams of Yahoo Boys cooperate to systematically exploit victims, using playbooks that script out conversations months in advance. Some scammers specialize in phone work; others, in writing or computer hacking. Still others work the late phases of the scam, impersonating bank officials or law enforcement in an effort to con victims who are trying to get their money back. Think romance fraud on an industrial scale. And they're brilliant at it. Where does all the money go? Investigators fret about West Africa's terrorism links — northern Nigeria is home to the notorious insurgent group Boko Haram — and its role in international drug trafficking.
While the EFCC has made some high-profile arrests, only a relative handful of fraudsters are brought to justice. And, as Amy discovered, victims in the U. The psychological toll is harder to quantify. The trauma is twofold: Besides the financial loss, scam victims endure the destruction of a serious relationship. People have to go through a grieving process. In Australia, Hay has found that face-to-face victim support groups are helpful.
But Whitty notes that, for many, denial is the easier path: A surprising number of victims end up getting scammed again. Other victims fall into the risky practice of scam baiting, a kind of digital vigilantism: They attempt to turn the tables and lead scammers on with promises of future riches. Her hope was that she'd be able to lure him into giving up something incriminating. She found the neighborhood in Kuala Lumpur that he said he lived in, and she prowled its streets using the Street View feature on Google Maps, looking for some landmark he might have mentioned.
Sometimes, he'd still call her in the middle of the night, and she'd hear that familiar voice for a few moments. Finally, Amy accepted that Dwayne — whoever and wherever he was — would never show his true face, never give her the confession she yearned to hear. She abandoned her hunt. Crane Hassold, the senior. He said he's seen farmers and religious people fall victim the most to this type of scam. In the report, researchers warn that individuals and businesses are "far more likely to be targeted by West African crime groups" than by hackers working for the Russian or North Korean governments.
The online love scam reviewed by Agari was largely based in Nigeria, the report concluded. And while many unsuspecting American have likely received emails from scammers claiming to be "a Nigerian prince," Agari's new report focuses on a scam that is far more elaborate and believable, especially because it preys on vulnerable people searching for love, according to the report. The report includes emails from scammers with phrases the firm says might tip off the recipient. I use facial cleansers at times, Lotions and eye creams.
Another email suggests that in addition to her favorite foods being sushi and tacos, "candy yams" were also a favorite.
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Candy Yams, as the report notes are a favorite West African dish. The Laura Cahill persona was one of the most commonly-used fake identities, and it employed actual pictures from a real person. Specifically, scammers posted fake profiles on dating sites and waited for victims to send them an email, which allowed scammers to then engage in dialogue to test their targets' gullibility and willingness to send money, the Agari report said. One way the scammers would allegedly persuade victims to send money with the Laura Cahill persona was to convince them that "Laura" wanted to travel from Paris to visit the victim, but her credit card was frozen.
So, the scammers would tell victims, "Laura" needed help paying for an airline ticket -- and that sending a money order could resolve the issue. If the victim expressed hesitation, there was even a "travel agent" willing to reassure the victim that the funds were, in fact, going to pay for travel, which was sent from a different email and made to look like a legitimate invoice. After almost a year of sending money, the man was convinced that they were meant for each other despite "Laura" offering excuse after excuse for not meeting up, according to Agari.
The relationship abruptly ended when "Laura" stopped responding to messages from the man, who was not named in the report. All rights reserved. Tech firm warns of online dating scams, Nigerian connection. State Department official appears under subpoena as part of impeachment probe. Maria Butina, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy, lands in Moscow after release from US. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ray Jenkins dies at Former VA secretary speaks out about 'shadow government' under Trump. Former National Security official asks judge if he must testify in impeachment probe.
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