Nigerian romance scams

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Nigerian romance scams
By Jeremy Byers
June 19th, 2006

Most have heard of the infamous “419 Scams†wherein a foreign criminal, usually from Nigeria, sends mass amounts of e-mails requesting help to get millions of dollars out of a country because Prince Al Muhammad Durka died and left it all to his political party, which has been taken over by foreign rebels who don’t know about the money, or something to that effect. But in the last year or so, people are coming forward about a new breed of scam, dubbed “Nigerian Romance Scams.â€

This scam takes place on dating Web sites, like Yahoo Personals. It’s amazing how much patience they have when developing a relationship with the victim. They typically have a profile with a picture taken from a modeling Web site like Hawaiianmodels.net, or even from somebody else’s MySpace, and use generic quips like “kind, caring, and searching for love.â€

Jennifer K., whose name she asked be altered, is a teacher and single mother of two. She was approached online by one such scammer going by the name of Jim Bower. He took five months forming a trusting bond with her online, claiming that he was also a teacher and was out of the country helping children in Nigeria learn to read. They exchanged e-mails in which they discussed the difficulties of teaching and the joys of making a difference in children’s lives.

Eventually, he told her that he was being paid by his teaching agency in money orders, and was having trouble cashing them in Nigeria. He asked her if she would cash it for him and wire him the money. He even allowed her to keep some of it for herself to compensate for her troubles. Jennifer, an honest and trusting woman, could do no such thing, and cashed the money order at her bank, then wired the money to Jim in the amount of $1,500.

“It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, and I didn’t have a problem sending it to him because it was such a small amount,†she said, “but then I got a call from the bank after doing him this favor four times in six weeks. They said to call back to this special number to speak to an agent. It didn’t say what kind of agent, so I thought it was just a telemarketer or something.â€

Over those six weeks, Jennifer had cashed money orders to the tune of $12,450, all of which she was told she had to pay back to the bank, plus penalties. She later had to deal with legal issues because the ADA was charging her with several counts of fraud.

“Obviously I didn’t have that much money to my name, and after talking to a lawyer and making a deal with the district attorney and sending him most of the e-mails from ‘Jim,’ I had to take out a home equity loan to pay the debt and complete 80 hours of community service to keep it off of my record,†Jennifer said.

She also said that, at first, the DA’s office was treating her as if she was involved in the scam. One person even accused her of being “the ring leader.†After doing some research, they found that the picture had been taken from a modeling Web site.

“I felt like I had lost everything, and I cried every night for a week,†she said. “The thought of going to jail and losing my children is what really upset me.â€

Fortunately, she held on to most of the e-mails she had received and turned them over to the DA. The police, in conjunction with the bank, found that the money orders were real, but were purchased for just $20. They had been altered to reflect the various amounts, as high as $4,000, every penny of which Jennifer is being held accountable.

A new Yahoo Group, RomanceScams, was founded by two victims of the scam in 2005. They’re trying to get the word out about this scam so that others are not conned. The scammers are so relentless and prolific that they’re starting to scam each other. They are patient and conniving.

“We’ve even seen them take as long as a year [to seduce a mark],†said Donna Gregory, supervisory Internet crime specialist at the FBI’s Internet Fraud Complaint Center.

Think of the Internet as an actual bar full of conversation: Use protection (a firewall and virus detection program, like Panda Antivirus), verify all information to the best of your ability, and stay away from anything that seems remotely out of the ordinary. If it’s too good to be true, research it and call him or her out on it.
 
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