From 2015 to 2018, internet romance scams grew from $33 Million to $143 Million. No doubt it increased exponentially during the Great Global Covid Lockdown of 2020. Like the Nigerian Prince scam, which has been around for decades, the internet has made romance scams the leading type of scams on the internet. Men are as susceptible to this type of scam as women. There are literally buildings full of internet cafes in West Africa whose sole purpose is to scam lonely, maybe a bit desperate, people looking for love. Any and all are targets, including myself.
I had just moved to Florida from Thailand. I knew if I stayed in Bangkok, I would become the fat guy at the end of the bar telling stories for beer. I was sad, depressed, lonely and more than a little desperate. I had been to an Asian dating website. Eventually, I got a hit: A sweet young Thai woman that lived in Florida. We started chatting. It turns out she was helping her brother in Ghana, West Africa where he was enrolled in the University. She had an apartment in Orlando. She just needed $1,000 so she could fly back. I could even pick her up at the airport. All the warning signs. At this point, I was suspicious it was a scam but wanted to play along. The former intel officer in me wanted to see how far it would go. I asked her if she could talk on Skype. She said yes, but the connection may not be so good. Sure enough, the picture was mostly frozen. Overall, it was a fail. My next shot was to ask her if she had a Florida Drivers License. She was more than happy to oblige and send it to me. It was a close facsimile of a Florida DL, but it looked like it had been pieced together and was wildly out of proportion when compared with a real Florida DL. At this point I stopped playing.
On one of my transits through Madrid, I visited with the secretary of the company I used to work for. She was in her forties and had visited West Africa on mission trips. A friend of hers had been in a two-year email relationship with a man in Kenya. They had never met, despite several heroic attempts by the man to meet her in Madrid; the timing just never quite worked out. They were close, off by only a couple of hours, but no meeting ever happened. The man felt terrible about the missed meetings and always sent flowers afterwards to apologize for the missed meeting. The man was about ready to move back to the UK after having worked for several years in Kenya. He had a successful construction company which he had sold for a hefty $5 Million. The only problem was that the government of Kenya would not let him have the money until he settled a $25,000 tax bill. If the lady in Madrid could only lend him $25,000, he would move back to the UK and they could live happily ever after.
She had tried to send the money just before I arrived. The bank manager had refused to send the money since it didn’t smell right to him. I asked the lady to ask her boyfriend in Kenya to send a copy of the tax bill. He was more than happy to oblige, as they always are. He produced an invoice from the Inland Tax Authority for $25,000. It was even on letterhead. Unfortunately for him, and fortunately for my friend’s lady friend, I had lived in Greece for two years and read Greek. The letterhead was for the Greek Inland Tax Authority. Oooopps. That was a huge red flag. I explained to a very upset lady that this had been a scam all along.
As luck would have it, my friend’s friend was not to be denied true love. About a month later, my friend sent me a picture with the new love story from her friend. She had met, online, a US serviceman, serving in the US Army. He had a tragic story of death in his life. His wife and their young son had been killed in an auto accident while he was serving overseas. It had happened four years prior and he was just now trying to grow out of his pain. He was currently serving as a US Army officer assigned to the UN Peacekeeping Force in Syria. This was before the current Syrian Civil war and the US had no troops assigned to the UN Peacekeeping force in Syria. The friend sent a picture of a handsome man in a UN uniform. A reverse picture search produced the expected results of a model who was photoshopped into a UN uniform.
The variations on this theme are endless. Anyone who meets someone online must do the following:
Have an in-person meeting in a public place with friends present. Ask them to show ID.
If it must be over the internet, at least do a successful skype or zoom meeting. There are few places on this planet where virtual meetings are not possible. If the person you are chatting with is in one of those places, that should tell you something.
The moment that they ask for money, run – don’t walk – run away as fast as possible. To quote a good friend, “it’s insane to wire money to someone whom you have never seen or probably never spoken to on the phone.” RUN!!!
If you want to continue the relationship, contact me at Pinnacle Global Security and ask me to do a background check. It might cost a bit, but do you want a dream or a nightmare? If it turns out to be legitimate, then both you and your newfound love should be happy. You will both have done your due diligence. If it turns out to be a scam, then think of the heartache I will have saved you.
Technology allows us to do many things and to meet people from around the world without leaving our living room. It creates endless opportunities to find your true love or a true nightmare.