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Romance Scam - The evil game of the romance scammers

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Unscrupulous love scammers take their victims out on online social platforms. Little is being done against digital marriage swindlers. Those affected pay a lot of money and end up in financial and emotional ruin. A look behind the facades of the perpetrators and victims.

Scammers move with the times. They skillfully use the new media and adapt to new social phenomena, for example looking for a partner on the Internet. So-called romance scammers open false profiles on social platforms with stolen pictures and ensnare their victims with love whispers for weeks. After the victims have fallen in love with the wrong faces and beautiful words, after they have been made compliant to a certain extent, it then gets down to business: the scammers demand money.

Fraudsters have an especially easy time of it on free platforms such as Facebook, Tinder or Badoo. Paid sites like Parship or b2 have introduced control filters, but even there a romance scammer can slip through the mesh.

1 million francs - and all out of love

«Kassensturz»:

Many victim reports show that this scam is successful. Also in Switzerland. However, romance scamming is still given relatively little attention, and statistics on attempted fraud or victims do not exist. A big problem: The probably enormous number of unreported cases, since many victims do not report out of shame.

The English University of Leicester concluded in a 2012 study from a representative survey that almost 230,000 British people fell victim to such romantic fraudsters over a period of five years. Ascending trend. According to SOCA (Serious Crime Agency), they paid between 50 and 800,000 pounds (around 1 million Swiss francs) to the fraudsters. SRF is aware of two cases from Switzerland that brought the victims close to financial ruin: one victim paid 80,000 francs, the second victim was already in the six-figure range. Women are generally more affected than men.

Black becomes white: the big picture theft on the Internet

Behind this scam is once again the infamous Nigeria Connection. The fraudsters work in organized gangs, pretending to be American or English, but are actually based in Nigeria or Ghana. There are now many free riders all over the world who also operate this “business model”.

The website romancescam.com wants to make life difficult for digital marriage swindlers. Among other things, the operators collect scammer profiles and publish them. Sometimes the website apparently manages to uncover the real faces behind the profiles with fake photos. This is possible because some scammers are careless. The operators of the website write that they use the same e-mail address with which they correspond with their victims, also as contact on their real Facebook or similar profiles.

Even if the correctness of the photo comparisons cannot be verified, the photo gallery on romancescam.com shows very nicely who can be behind stolen photos and beguiling whispers of love: Young men and young women - mostly dark-skinned - they make no difference between the sexes: Men pretend to be women, women pretend to be men, etc.

Getting hold of these romance scammers is extremely difficult. Because they are careful to leave their traces in the sand: the IP address can hardly be determined outside the EU, the Internet profile is fake, the cell phones are often equipped with unregistered prepaid cards (e.g. with an English area code). To collect the victims' money - usually from a money transfer service like Westernunion - they use fake IDs or send straw men. Another problem: the Swiss authorities need legal assistance from the country concerned to prosecute the perpetrators, but they are usually not interested in cooperation.

Master of manipulation

The scammers' scam shows a clear pattern. According to Swiss crime prevention, three levels are known:

Love disgrace in 3 stages:

Step 1: Manipulation of feelings
If a person looking for a partner classifies a scammer's request as serious at all, the manipulation via the fake profile has already worked. Those affected feel flattered. "Finally I can find a great partner too, finally I can find happiness that I had to do without for so long!". Those affected long for a concrete meeting towards which the fraudsters “work”. Female scammers often ask for money for a flight to Switzerland, which of course they never take. Male impostors deliberately postpone a meeting. For example, important business needs to be done first, illnesses and accidents or problems with the judiciary arise. Again and again the so-called lawyer of the “lover” intervenes - often it is the same person - and underpins the precarious situation. The victims are pressured to send money so that the meeting can take place. This phase can drag on for weeks or even months. The longer the addiction lasts, the harder it becomes to remain suspicious.
Level 2: Belief with false facts
Victims who are not or no longer willing to pay are put under further pressure with falsified letters from alleged police and judicial authorities. For example, a fake Interpol investigator writes that the fraudster has been exposed and that the victim is trying to get the money back. In order for the money to be transferred, it must make an advance payment to customs. And then the trap snaps shut again. In their disappointment, the victims want to at least limit the financial damage.
Stage 3: extortion with intimate images
Recently, the romance scammers have not stopped at so-called "sex tortion". In the course of the intimate and tingling online flit they get their victims to send more and more intimate images. If those affected are not willing to pay, they are blackmailed: "If you don't pay, we will publish the material."

Source: Swiss crime prevention / study at the University of Leicester

Irrational swindles often do not make you prudish

A SRF editor contacted such a “lover” about a year ago and pretended to be the friend of a scammer victim. This with the intention of convincing the entangled victim of a fraud and showing the deceitful approach. The alleged Thomas Schneider from England could be reached via a cell phone number with the area code of the Arab Emirates. He bluntly told the editor that he was currently in prison in Abu Dhabi. Very suspicious: he was still able to make calls with his own cell phone. And he complained about how badly he was being treated. He also told the reporter that he needed 19,000 euros. All of this with an accent that doesn't sound like English at all.

To the German translation of the conversation

None of this was able to convince the victim. Despite emerging doubts, she continued to believe in this "love". And that's typical. In the study by the University of Leicester, the victims stated that they always saw the man or woman in the (false) profile picture in front of them while communicating. And: They didn't want to believe that great love was just invented and just had to see the “beloved” or “beloved” as quickly as possible.

Marianne R., who reported on "Kassensturz", felt the same for a long time:

Today she made up for the financial damage she suffered back then and fortunately overcame her emotional pain.

Who is particularly vulnerable to such scams?

Read more about this in the interview with the criminologist Chantal Billaud from the Swiss Crime Prevention.

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