I arrived on the date, all happy, but realized that the girl who sat was a year old lady with two children and was just finding an excuse to leave her house. I was a fan. When we meet up, the wit disappeared. I tossed her a couple of verbal jousts. It turns out her roommate had been helping her reply to messages. Without asking, she reached over and started picking toppings of my pizza. I spent a week messaging a few girls and decided to meet the first of these girls to put my plan into action.
We ended up hitting it off and started dating exclusively. Four years later, and we are still dating. She completely ruined my plan. We went out a few times. A few weeks in, he told me I was almost perfect, except my upper arms were fat. I think he meant it as a compliment. It takes me an hour to drive there, and I arrive at the restaurant before she does a good thirty minutes before our date, so I could be prepared. The waitress brings her to my table, and I see another man walking with her.
For the first time in my entire life, I was completely speechless. I had no idea how to reply, so I just got up and walked out of the restaurant without saying a word. We decided to go get dinner, and she was even better in person. When I got home, she texted me saying that I was just going to use her had we had sex, calling me a pig. Her friend went to her house, where Ashley had apparently left her phone, and her car and the front door was wide open.
So I told this mystery person to call the cops. I usually leave my phone in my truck until lunch, so when I went out for lunch at noon, I had new texts and 48 missed calls. So I blocked her number and assumed that was it. She knew where I worked and the rough time I got off work, which is almost an hour and a half from where she lived. Looking back, would things have been different if he'd said he was in Nigeria?
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Amy knew all about those people who posed as Nigerian bankers and gulled victims with awkwardly phrased "business opportunities" over spam email. But this was different; Amy loved to travel and knew lots of people from overseas. The fact that Dwayne was living in Malaysia added an exotic note to his "eau de enigma. A former "Yahoo boy" shows how teams of con artists fleece victims from Internet cafes.
Born in neighboring Benin, he and his family moved to Nigeria during his childhood and went looking for opportunities in the emerging economic powerhouse of Africa's most populous nation. Instead, he found "the game" — Nigeria's shadow economy of scams, named for the article in the Nigerian criminal code that deals with fraud. Enitan is not the scammer Amy encountered in ; his fraud career ended in , he says.
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. 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: 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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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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?
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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. 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. 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.
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: 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.