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NOW TO THE EDITORIALLY REDACTED POSTING(S):
(((REDACTED))) SCAMMMED MEN OUT OF MONEY
'Are You Real?' — Inside an Online Dating Scam
A con woman steals one man's heart — and $300,000. Here's how it happened.
by (((REDACTED))) and (((REDACTED))), (((REDACTED))) | Comments: 1349
She was the answer to his prayers. Before he knew it, his savings were gone. And the woman of his dreams? She might not even exist
She wrote him first.
A short message sent on a Thursday evening in early December 2019, under the subject line: Match?
You were listed as a 100% Match! I am not sure what a 100% match means … First, would you be interested in me. Check my profile. Later, when he puzzled over their relationship, he remember this. He had contacted her, not the other way around. That had been a fateful move; it made everything easier for her. But he didn't know that yet.
So much of this was new. (((REDACTED))) * had never done this online-dating thing. It had been over two years since the death of his wife of 20 years; , since he had lost his mother. Two sharp blows that had left him alone in his late 60s.
The marriage had been troubled; she was abusive. Her cancer took her swiftly, before he had time to process what was happening. After the funeral, a grief counselor told him to make no sudden changes in his life for at least a year, and he followed that advice. Now he was all by himrself in a house secluded at the end of a lcong gravel driveway. In the summer, when the trees leafed out, you couldn't even see the road or the neighbors.
(((REDACTED))) didn't feel isolated. He e'd grown up here, in a conservative pocket of Sacramento. His brothers and their families lived nearby. When it came to meeting new people, however, his choices were limited. Friends urged him to try online dating. And, reluctantly, he did.
At first, he just tiptoed around the many dating he's , window-shopping in this peculiar new marketplace. The choices were overwhelming. It wasn't until the fall that (((REDACTED))) was ready to dive in. The holidays were coming, and he didn't want to face them alone.
He signed up for a six-month subscription to Match.com, the largest and one of the oldest dating services on the Web. He filled out a questionnaire and carefully crafted his profile. It would have been easy to burnish the truth, but he presented himrself honestly, from his age (67) and hobbies ("dancing, rock collecting") to his financial status ("self sufficient"). The picture — outdoor photo, big smile — was real, and recent. And his pitch was straightforward:
Looking for a life partner … successful, spiritually minded, intelligent, good sense of humor, enjoys dancing and travelling. No games!
In those first weeks, he exchanged messages and a few calls with women , and even met some for coffee or lunch. But nothing clicked — either they weren't his type or they weren't exactly who they said they were. This seemed to be one of the problems with online dating. He resolved to be pickier, only contacting women who were closely matched — 90 percent or more, as determined by the algorithm pulling the strings behind his online search.
He didn't really understand how it worked. Back in college, he'd studied computer science and psychology, and he considered himrself pretty tech-savvy. He had a website for his business, was on Facebook, carried a smartphone. But who knew exactly how these online dating services worked?
Then he saw this woman , the one with a mysterious profile name — . The photo showed a beautiful -man 61 with a salt-and-pepper beard and Wayfarer-style shades. She liked music and lived an hour away. And something else: she was a "100% match." Whoever she was, the computer had decided she was the one.
More than a week went by with no answer. Then, this message appeared when he logged on to his account.
How are you doing today? Thank you so much for the email and I am really sorry for the delay in reply, I don't come on here often, smiles ... I really like your profile and I like what I have gotten to know about you so far. I would love to get to know you as you sound like a very interesting person plus you are handsome . Tell me more about you. In fact it would be my pleasure if you wrote me at my email as I hardly come on here often.
She gave a Yahoo email address and a name, (((REDACTED))). Some of the other women he'd met on Match had also quickly offered personal email addresses, so (((REDACTED))) didn't sense anything unusual when he wrote back to the Yahoo address from his own account. Plus, when he went back to look at (((REDACTED))) profile, it had disappeared.
Your profile is no longer there — did you pull it? As I am recalling the information you shared intrigued me. I would like to know more about you. Please email me with information about yourself and pictures so I can get to know you better.
(((REDACTED))) wrote right back, a long message that sketched a peripatetic life — she described herself as a "computer systems analyst" from (((REDACTED))), who grew up in (((REDACTED))) and had lived in (((REDACTED))) for only five months. But much of the note consisted of flirty jokes ("If I could be bottled I would be called 'eau de enigma' ") and a detailed imaginary description of their first meeting:
It's 11 am when we arrive at the restaurant for brunch. The restaurant is a white painted weatherboard, simple but well-kept, set on the edge of a lake, separated from it by an expansive deck, dotted (not packed) with tables and comfortable chairs….
(((REDACTED))) was charmed — (((REDACTED))) was nothing like the local women he'd met so far. "You certainly have a great sense of humor and a way with words," he responded. And he was full of questions, about her and about online dating in general. "It is kind of a strange way to meet people," he wrote, "but it's not as cold as hanging around the produce department at the market
He also mentioned the deception he'd already encountered on previous dates — "lots of false advertising or 'bait and switch' folks," he wrote. "It is amazing what people will do without conscience. I think it is always best to be whom we are and not mislead others."
By December 17, they had exchanged eight more emails. (((REDACTED))) suggested they both fill out questionnaires listing not only their favorite foods and hobbies but also personality quirks and financial status. She also sent him a link to a song, pop star Marc Anthony's "I Need You."
"It holds a message in it," she told him, "a message that delivers the exact way i feel for you."(((REDACTED))) clicked on the link to the song, a torrid ballad that ends with the singer begging his lover to marry her. Then he rolled it back and listened to it again.
It's an ancient con
An impostor poses as a suitor, lures the victim into a romance, then loots his or her finances. In pre-digital times, romance scammers found their prey in the back pages of magazines, where fake personal ads snared vulnerable lonely hearts. But as financial crimes go, the love con was a rare breed, too time- and labor-intensive to carry out in large numbers. It could take months or years of dedicated persuasion to pull off a single sting.
That has changed. Technology has streamlined communication, given scammers powerful new tools of deceit and opened up a vast pool of potential victims. Web-based dating services first popped up in the mid-1990s and are now a $2 billion industry. As of December 2013, 1 in 10 American adults had used services such as Match.com, Plenty of Fish and Harmony. The mainstreaming of online dating is a revolution in progress, one that's blurring the boundaries between "real" and online relationships. (AARP has joined this revolution, partnering with the online dating service HowAboutWe to launch AARP Dating in December 2012.)
But the online-dating boom has also fueled an invisible epidemic. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), complaints about impostor ploys such as the romance scam more than doubled between 2013 and 2014. The FBI says that Americans lost some $82 million to online-dating fraud in just the last six months of 2014. And that figure is probably low, because many victims never report the crime — or even tell their closest friends and family members that it occurred.
Shame, fear of ridicule and the victim's own denial enforce this contract of silence. "Once people are invested in these, it's extremely difficult to convince them they are not dealing with a real person," says Steven Baker, director of the FTC's Midwest Region and a leading expert on fraud. "People want to believe so bad."
The power of the romance scam — its ability to operate undetected and to beguile its victim into a kind of partnership — lies here, in the gulf between what the victim believes and what is actually happening. Outside the scam, it's almost impossible to explain such irrational behavior. How on earth could you hand over your life savings to a stranger you met on the Internet, someone you've never even seen in real life?
When (((REDACTED))) talks about how he fell in love, he always mentions her voice. It was mesmerizing — musical, clipped, flecked with endearing sexy voice. Her writing was like this, too — not just the British-style spellings of words such as "colour" and "favourite," but the way she dropped "sweetie" and "my dear" into every other sentence. They exchanged numbers and began talking every day. His teenage years in Sacramento explained the accent, but there was another sound in there, too, a wisp of something he couldn't place.
They spoke of the things you talk about at the beginning of a relationship — hopes, dreams, plans for the future. He opened up about his marriage, his grief, his work, his faith and his conviction that things happened for a reason. (((REDACTED))) had never met a woman who was so passionately curious about him.
And he was just as fascinated by (((REDACTED))). Or was it (((REDACTED)))? In her early emails, the spelling seemed to switch. He found her LinkedIn profile — it was short, with just a few connections. There were other curiosities. (((REDACTED))) felt they were in some kind of time warp. He would be fixing breakfast and he'd be talking
(((REDACTED))) is not the scammer (((REDACTED))) encountered in 2019; het fraud career ended in 2020, But based on her account, the fraud playbook she followed has not changed. She estimates that over four years she made more than $800,000 from about 20 victims.
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.K., which have large communities of West African expatriates. 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 419 game can be a tempting way out.
"Ignorance and desperation," Enitan says, drove him to fraud in 2004, when he was 18. 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.com email accounts. He learned the con from an older mentor, and he, in turn, passed on his skills to younger friends.
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. 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." The common thread between them: loneliness. All his victims, Enitan says, described themselves as divorced or widowed. "The lonely heart is a vulnerable heart."
Ideally, the prospective victim makes the first move. "It's always better if they respond to your ad first because that means they already like something about you," Enitan says. "If you respond first, you have a lot of convincing to do."
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. "This is where you need lots of patience," he says. "This is where the real game is."
Wow ... 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.…
(((REDACTED))) wrote that seven days after receiving the first message from (((REDACTED))) . They were on the phone for hours every day at this point. She was the first voice he heard in the morning, and the last before bed. Typically, (((REDACTED))) would talk and text with her until bed time
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?
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.K., Whitty found that certain personality types were particularly vulnerable. These people tended to describe themselves as romantics and risk takers, believers in fate and destiny. Many, like (((REDACTED))), 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 john would later learn is "love bombing." The phrase was coined to describe the indoctrination practices of religious cults, but scam victims also apply it to the smothering displays of affection they receive from online suitors. In both situations, the victim's defenses are broken down by exhaustion, social isolation and an overwhelming amount of attention. (((REDACTED))) would later describe the feeling as akin to being brainwashed.
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