Yesterday was a long, but very rewarding day. I drove to Manchester to do some filming for a program to be shown on prime time UK TV in January, the name of which I still can’t mention. After that we met with the owner of “an online dating efficiency hub that gives users access to dating sites and information” in order to find ways to work together in getting the word out about romance scammers. It was a round trip of over 500 miles, but should do good in raising the site’s profile and awareness of scams, so was well worth it. I should also mention and thank my friend Chris, who was willing to be dragged out of bed at the ungodly hour of 5:30am to accompany me on the journey.
The refugee scam is a mix of romance scam and trunk box scam. In these cases, the “woman” will have fled the country due to her family being brutally murdered or a wicked relative trying to control her after the death of her father. They will claim to be in a refugee camp, and in possession of the means to obtain a large amount of money. The camp will usually be in Senegal, as that’s where these scammers are working from, These scammers are easy to spot as their scripts are all very similar. Here are two examples, both taken from the same site:
my name is Sandra, I came across your profile and become interested for a serious relationship. please if you wouldn’t mind, i will like you to write me through my email; ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) so that i can give you my pictures and tell you more about myself. age and distance does not matter, rather what i value most is the understanding and love. thanks till i hear from you,
I have seen your profile contact here, Indeed, I (email@example.com) need a friend who is realistic, honesty and faithful in my life.. I quite believe that we can start from here since it takes one to know someone. I want you to understand that race or distance does not matter but loving and caring matters a lot in life. I am expecting your favorable response so that we can get to know each other better. On the receipt of your response to (firstname.lastname@example.org), I will send my pictures to you. Yours truly, tina
As you can see, both claim that distance doesn’t matter, and one says that age isn’t imporant while the other says the same about race. Both also offer to send pictures if you reply. Around 50% of the time, there will be no avatar with their profile, or it’ll contain a flower/sunset photograph. They may claim that they have something important to tell you. The “important” thing will be that they need your help to escape the supposed refugee camp and collect the money, and that they’re willing to offer you a share in exchange for your help. There is of course no money, no refugee camp and no pastor that you can talk to. The “pastor” will be the scammer, and if you speak to a female then it’ll be his girlfriend/wife/sister/mother/him putting on a stupid falsetto voice in a pathetic attempt to fool you.
Another clue that this is a refugee scam will be the fact the email address is not only included in the message, but surrounded by brackets. Here’s another example that has the classic misspellings “remeber” and “alot” that we see all the time:
My name is Rose,i saw your profile today and became interested in you,i will also like to know you the more,and i want you to send an email to my email address so i can give you my picture for you to know whom i am.
Here is my email address(email@example.com)
I believe we can move from here
I am waiting for your mail to my email address above.
Remeber the distance or colour does not matter but love matters alot in life
Another thing to notice is that a lot (or “alot”) will claim to have become “interested in your profile”. These wording patterns make spotting the scammers very easy.
Here we’ll list a number of misconceptions, falsehoods and lies about scammers.
“All Africans are scammers”
Many parts of Africa have a bad reputation as being scammer hotspots. This does not mean everyone in those places are scammers. The vast majority of people are honest and law abiding. It’s the minority that drag the reputation down.
“All black people are scammers”
This is of course wildly innacurate and outright racist. There are scammers from every part of the globe, and they come in all colours. Russian and Ukrainian scammers for example are white males abusing stolen photos of white females to perpetrate their scams.
“Anyone using a stolen photo is a scammer”
Apart from baiters, people who are aware of the dangers online and don’t expose their real face and people who simply want to use a photo of someone they like instead of their own. A stolen photo can be a sign the person is a scammer, but is not absolute proof.
“I saw her on webcam. She must be real”
Webcam footage can be stolen, and some programs will even allow some level of interaction.
“They wouldn’t go on webcam with me, so they must be a scammer”
Not everyone is comfortable appearing on webcam. Just because they refuse doesn’t make them a scammer.
“Every white person claiming to be in Africa/Asia is a scammer”
Because of globalisation, people travel abroad for a number of reasons. Again, it can be considered a sign, but not 100% proof.
“They used a proxy. They must be a scammer”
Some people prefer to hide their real location. Some people use their phone to browse the web. Some people use ISPs that are considered a giant proxy. Simply using a proxy is not proof.
“She wants to see me naked online. She must be a scammer”
Or, maybe she’s horny too. It happens. You still need to be careful, but don’t simply assume they must be a blackmailer if they want to see you naked.
“I saw his ID. He must be real”
Can you say “Photoshop”?
“He admitted he was trying to scam me at first, but now really does love me”
No. He loves your bank account. That’s what he’s trying to get into, not your underwear.
“He promised to give me my money back”
Nuh huh. If he sends you anything, it’ll be money from another victim, not your scammer. That can get you put in jail. Even a bunch of flowers can be paid for abusing stolen credit card details.
Ask yourself this question. Do you really think the Governer of the Central Bank of Nigeria or the boss of the FBI are going to be using free email addresses? Of course they’re not. Always check to see where your reply is actually being sent to. Scammers can fake the from address, but the reply one has to be genuine and accessable to them.
With some freely available software and some prerecorded footage, scammers can appear to be someone else on webcam. There’s even a way to make the footage “interactive” if the person asks them to do the right thing. Just because they waved or blew a kiss at you when you asked, it doesn’t mean they’re real.
Often we hear the scammers from West Africa claim that they’re doing these scams in retaliation for the slave trade in the past by “the white man”. Let me call bullshit on this. The scammers send out their emails en masse with no thought or care as to who receives them. They have no idea where the people live, their age, sex, colour, religious beliefs or if they have cereal or toast for breakfast. All they have is a list of email addresses. Now tell me how on earth they can differentiate between their fellow countrymen and “the white man”?