By KATE HALIM
36-YEAR-OLD Rebecca Philips was recently scammed by a man she met in a dating chat room. After months of almost emptying her account to send money to his alleged sick mother, she still can’t shake off the negative feelings that crop up in her head once in a while.
After many failed relationships, she decided to try out dating sites because her friends won’t let her be. They kept prodding her about doing something different for once and see if her prince charming can finally emerge from the dating site. She went for it and got burnt badly.
Before taking that plunge, she used to pride herself as being a rational, realistic and careful woman. But falling prey to an online scammer was the height of it. After her experience, she learnt the hard way; not everyone on online dating sites is actually looking for love. Many of them are after other people’s pockets.
How they operate
Many of these scammers create fake online profiles using photos of other people both men and women alike. These days, they have even resorted to lifting pictures of attractive Nigerian men and women from Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn social media platforms just to keep up the scam. These individuals have no idea that their pictures are being used by criminally-minded people to defraud others.
These men who prowl on many dating sites looking for women who crave love and attention profess their love quickly. And they tug at the heartstrings of these unsuspecting women with made-up stories about how they need money for emergencies, hospital bills, or clear their goods from the port.
But they put in all these efforts at building trust just to steal the money of these women. They also use many aliases, emails, photos, gender, age and sexual orientation in order to cast their net to catch as many victims as possible.
Often the scammers use attractive female photo profiles because lots of men will respond to an attractive woman’s personal ad based on the photo alone. They also tend to target middle-aged people looking for stable relationships. The rationale is that this type of person is likely to be more desperate, gullible and financially stable.
They then post ads with fake profiles on online dating sites. They also lurk in chat rooms and social networking sites as well as Christian and other religious-based dating sites. They then spend months chatting up and luring their naive targets with online intimacy.
Their selling point is falsely offering their victims the chance of finding true love and happiness. However sooner or later, the vulnerable hearts who accept their requests and fall for their lies suffer financial losses and heartbreak. The scammers choose chat rooms and dating sites because the person in love offers the chance of the biggest payoffs.
In the past, these scammers get their victims involved in online bank fraud. They do this by setting up fake dating profiles to meet potential victims. After they form a relationship, they come up with reasons to ask their love interest to set up a new bank account. The scammers transfer stolen money into the new account, and then tell their victims to wire the money out of the country. And the sad part is that these victims think they are just helping out their soul mate, they don’t realize they are aiding and abetting a crime.
Scammers caught in the act
Recently, a Cape Town woman and her Nigerian husband, together with four Nigerian accomplices, were arrested in connection with an alleged online dating scam.
According to a police statement, the six were to appear in the Cape Town District Court on Friday on fraud charges. Police said two were arrested in Burgundy Estate and the others at their apartment in Summer Greens.
The arrests resulted from an ongoing investigation into an online dating scam in which unsuspecting female victims were targeted and robbed.
Thus far, seven victims have come forward who have been conned out of a combined amount of close to R400,000, police said. It is alleged that the suspects created fake accounts on online dating sites to lure women.
The suspects chatted with the victims for a while before starting to come up with different scenarios which would see women depositing or transferring money to the banking details which the suspects provided.
The 31-year-old Cape Town woman, who allegedly received the money via money market transactions, was found with R50,000 in cash when she was arrested.
When one Henry Ogu was arrested by the Nigeria Police Force for his involvement in a romance scam that saw an American woman duped of $350,000 (N52 million), he was 29 years old. The Special Fraud Unit of the Nigeria Police Force also arrested his accomplice, a 42 year old man, Yunusa Okonkwo for his involvement in the scam.
The victim, a US citizen resident in New Jersey, alleged that sometime in April 2013, she met Ogu on a dating site and both started a relationship which lasted for months until the suspect manipulated and made her to believe that he was in financial trouble in Nigeria.
She further stated that she sent $350,000.00 to the two account numbers that Ogu provided. The accounts belonged to Mr. Okonkwo who operates a Bureau de change.
People whose pictures are used for scams cry out
A man identified as David Enyinna Chuks recently cried out after fraudsters continued to use his pictures to defraud women.
This was the message he put out on social media recently, ‘’I am David Enyinnaya Chuks and that’s my name on Facebook too. Recently, someone has been impersonating me using my recent pictures to defraud women. He or she will make them fall in love with him, thereby making them believe they are talking to the guy in the pictures.
‘’He ends up asking them for money after making most of them fall in love with him. He will simply lie to them that his mum is sick and needs urgent attention and some of them, out of love, will send huge money to him. Please help me publish so that it will go viral in case he or she tries to impersonate me again.’’
Enyinnaya said the impostor has scammed a lot of people already. He added that recently five of his friends called his attention to many fake facebook profiles with his pictures that these fraudsters are using to scam women as he operates only one facebook account.
He begged Nigerians to help him share the post so that women won’t be scammed anymore. He added that some of the women are already in love with his pictures without knowing they are in love with someone else.
Also, one Susan Nathaniel, a bead maker has also cried out about how her pictures ended up on many fake Instagram accounts. She made screenshots of these many fake accounts with different names just for the purpose of attracting and scamming unsuspecting victims.
At one point, she had to send a direct message on Instagram to one of the fake accounts and tried to reason with whoever was spoiling her name, but in a funny twist, instead of the faceless person to feel remorseful about their criminal acts, they called her unprintable names, insulted her and even blocked her.
In another instance, one of her facebook friends sent N50,000 to one of the scammers because they thought she was the one asking for help as he saw her picture on the fake profile. But another friend of hers was lucky because he had her number. He called her to find out why she was soliciting for funds on Facebook and discovered that it was all a scam. He had the account reported to Facebook and it was deactivated.
After being single for four years, Jennifer was ready to date and hopefully find someone with whom she could spend the rest of her life with. And for a while, it seemed like she had found Mr. Right as the man she met on a dating site showered her with so much love that made her head swell and left her heart throbbing.
But instead of finding love, she became a victim of a cyber-dating scam artist who lured her into parting with N500, 000. This mother of two actually believed she had found the man of her dreams on a popular dating website. They communicated by phone, email and text messages and she immediately liked his smile and was impressed by his kindness and his love for everything that she liked.
She was swept off her feet and fell in love with the words and voice of a man she never met in person. Jennifer recalls all the romantic details about the seven-month relationship. She says he even proposed and it was like a dream come true. She admitted, “I made a big mistake. It’s embarrassing. I feel foolish that I did it.”
In the same vein, Toyin was scammed of N120,000 by her supposed boyfriend that she met online. They met in person after chatting for over four months. He had travelled down to her base to see her, spent time with her and even introduced her to his mother and relatives.
So, it came as a rude shock when she was fleeced of her hard earned money after her supposed fiancé absconded with her money and changed his phone numbers too. Every effort to reach his supposed family members also yielded no results. They were just part of his elaborate scheme to get her to trust him.
Another victim, Princess said she was duped of her business funds. She had met Hilary on one of the famous dating sites and thought she landed herself a good man. He was very caring, attentive and loving. He said and did the right things at the right time. She also knew everything about him or so she had thought.
After months of loving, exchanging messages, emails and calls, he travelled to the United Kingdom. After three days, he called telling her that his mother was ill, in the hospital and needed money fast for surgery. She felt for her would-be mother-in-law and had to use the money her brother gave her to set up a business to pay for the supposed surgery.
But when she went back to the hospital the next day, she couldn’t find the woman anymore. And her number was disconnected too. When she called her lover, he hung up on her and has not picked her calls ever since. Ashamed, afraid and broke, Princess was close to depression. But she had picked up the pieces of her life and is wary of online dates ever since.
Recently, a young lady whose photograph was stolen from her Instagram account by a fraudster and used to defraud randy men on social media, has had the last laugh as the scam master was arrested after she cried out.
The lady, Ndifreke Akpabio revealed that she was shocked beyond words after many people who knew her, called her attention to the fraud that was being perpetrated in her name. Angry and determined to get to the root of the matter, she involved the police who traced the man and got him arrested.
She posted this message on her facebook wall afterwards:
“I woke up to the reality of the fact that in a twinkle of an eye, one’s personality, character and image, built over a life time, could crumble with so much ease without the victim being in the know.
Today I write to tell my story. Or is it a story? Well, I don’t even have the words to caption it in anyway, but do know I was a victim who knew not what was being done with my pictures.
Instagram, Facebook etc, are lovely apps but in as much, the rate of impersonation is alarming. To cut the story short, a fraudster picked my pictures from instagram and opened a Facebook account with my picture and another name (Olanipekun Lizzy) and duped many intending male suitors to the tune of N2.5 million.
Unfortunately for him, Karma caught up with him and now he is in custody of the law enforcement agents. As amazed as I am on this callous act of impersonation, I would like to use this medium to dissociate my self from all the fraudulent acts done using my pictures, as I was never in the know nor do I know the fraudster from anywhere.
For all his deeds, he shall take full responsibility for his actions and would be punished according to laws of the land.
On a final note, I would like to thank the captors of this fraudster as they have saved me from further embarrassments and also others who could fall victim to his deceitful acts and evil schemes. Thank you very much and God bless us all.”