A 51-year-old transwoman named Stac has been looking for a man online but has instead stumbled upon two Nigerian romance scammers who keep asking her for money. So far, she has los… Read More
There is a secret crime which many individuals across the United States don’t talk about – Nigerian romance scams and their path of destruction. Every single day in America, hardworking, trusting, good people lose thousands of dollars totaling over $143 million in the U.S. alone, over one year.
Why don’t we hear about this type of fraud more often? Usually, it is because victims remain quiet and stoic, embarrassed that they have been scammed by someone they met online. However, this crime happens to people both young and old – your friends, neighbors, men, and women. You may become a victim when you least expect it and leave you mildly annoyed, or heartbroken and in financial ruin.
The worst part of all is that you’ll willingly participate – giving your money and heart to someone you think you trust. Some Nigerian scammers solely trick through emails, Ponzi/pyramid schemes, or fake cashier checks, etc. Others participate in something called a romance scam, where they pretend to be a trusted friend and online lover. However, no matter how many times a victim texts a scammer until the sun comes up or tells them all of their secrets, a Nigerian scammer’s goal is always to leave you broke and alone.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations Internet Crimes Complaint Center (IC3) Nigerian scammers aren’t only posing on internet dating sites waiting for the obvious romance scams. They may find you where you least suspect it, through an online game, social media platform, by message or email, or using apps of all variety. You could be playing a game of Words with Friends or Fortnite, when you meet the scammer whom you’ll lose ten thousand dollars to or at least send an iTunes gift card.
Maybe you’re swiping and searching on dating websites like Tinder, Bumble, Plenty of Fish, or OkCupid in search of your next date or online relationship when you receive a scammer’s initial contact. They are catfishing you using a fake profile, so you think that they are the sweetest until they scam you. Other times, you open an email where someone needs a loan and claims that they will pay you a thousand (or million!) dollars in return. They sound genuine, and you need the cash.
Whatever the specifics of each scam, the reality is that Nigerian scammers are fictitious characters writing about fictitious happenings. They are masterful storytellers who create a narrative they hope you’ll believe. When they attempt to trick you out of cash, they write seemingly personal, genuine messages. When they deceive through romance scams, they appear to fall in love and write to reel you in.
This trickery can be convincing, as their words often rival a Hollywood love story. The character they have created is romantic and down to earth, which is why so many people fall for them and fast. They are composites of the perfect man or woman, someone possessing each quality you’re looking for – kindness, compassion, financial security, a good education, charm, humor, and best of all?
They want nothing more than to meet, date, and be with you forever. It’s a whirlwind which has you thinking about a long-term future with someone you’ve never met in person. The “why” for you is a connection, compassion, and lasting love. Unfortunately, the ‘why’ for them is only money.
While their desire for your money may be apparent once they’ve tricked you, how did they do it? How are Nigerian scammers are so successful at deceiving smart, savvy, otherwise careful people? The answer is that these scammers have plenty of practice and you are not their only victim. While you are being scammed, they are also scamming or attempting to scam, many others at the same time.
Meanwhile, the Internet Crime Commission (IC3) of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (F.B.I.) reported that in 2016 these types of romance scams counted for 15,000 reports exceeding $230 million. Frighteningly enough, the above represents only a fraction of Nigerian scammers favorite scams. 419 scammers also trick through reshipping schemes, investment fraud, lottery scams, identity theft, fake business/employment scams, credit card fraud, auction fraud, counterfeit cashier’s checks, parcel courier email schemes, escrow services fraud, internet extortion, spam, third party receiver of funds scams, property rental scams, debt elimination scams, auction fraud, Nigerian letter or “419” letter, phishing/spoofing, Ponzi/pyramid schemes, etc.
Here is the playbook and scripts these scammers use. Share it with friends, or return to it whenever you meet someone new online and grow concerned if they’re honest with you, this is the PLAYBOOK OF A NIGERIAN ROMANCE SCAMMER:
While some scammers won’t follow this exact blueprint, most will, minus a few different details. How do we know this? From experience; we helped thousands of scam victims over the years.
The scammer contacts you through an online dating app or site, by email, messaging platform, via text message, on social media, through in-game messaging, from a chat room, or even (sometimes) by letter (if your spam filters don’t stop their correspondence). Their contact might feel random and unexpected. They use a fake profile so that they seem too good to resist.
If their goal is a romance scam, they might tell you, later, that it was chance or destiny that brought you together, but they messaged multiple people and targeted you because you were financially secure, middle-aged or older, seemed vulnerable or depressed, and were single or widowed. Other times, they send messages to as many people as possible and see who takes the bait.
They may claim that they usually live in your neck of the woods or domestically, in the United States. They will then say that they are overseas due to work, schooling, religious obligations (such as being a missionary), or another critical obligation. If they are male, they might claim to be working on an oil rig or that they are a member of the military, a contractor, or an engineer.
Female scammers will claim to be models, porn actresses, or traveling nurses. Both genders might say they are in the Peace Corp or students. Some will admit to being born abroad and claim they need help due to an oppressive government. If they want you to fall in love with them, they will send you photographs (of them) which seem a little too beautiful or good-looking to be true.
The female’s photos may appear to have a classic “girl next door” type of appearance, while the male’s pictures will be chiseled and muscular. These are fake photographs they have stolen from a real person (or model) on the internet.
If they are setting you up for a Ponzi scheme or other financial-only fraud, they will push the deal quickly. If romance is involved, even if you had a busy life before you met your online scammer in disguise, the moment you’re willingly in contact with them, they will devote hours to keeping in touch with you daily. You are their priority, as you are their next paycheck.
Its part of their ploy to seduce you into loving and trusting them. The more time you spend communicating with them, the faster they can move to the second part of their plan – reeling you in and asking for cash!
Just how long are you talking to this person daily, texting and messaging back and forth? When it comes to a Nigerian scammer, the answer will often be upward of 3 or 4 hours daily. Their devotion to you is part of their job. As it is their job, they use tools.
One tool could be translating software like Google Translate, as they attempt to fix or minimize any language barriers between you. Familiar with silly text errors from autocorrect, you may initially brush off their typos when they are indicative of a foreign scammer using English as a second language, which they haven’t fully mastered yet.
If they don’t appeal to the goodness of your heart with a classic financial scheme, they will appeal to your heart itself and claim to love you almost immediately! They will say that they’ve never felt like this before and that you are their true love, the one for them.
Even if they claim to be widowed or have children, they will insist that you are now one of the most important people in their life and part of their future. They will compliment you and send you romantic, flowery, flattering comments. You will fall in “love” with how “in love” they are with you.
As we already discussed, the photographs they sent you are fake. How do they do this? Honestly, it is not difficult for a scammer to steal images through Google. They then crop out identifying details and place the photos on their computer desktop or save them in their phone.
They might even create a file which contains ready-to-use stolen photographs. The scammers’ goal when choosing fake photographs is for their victim to believe they are the attractive person in the photos.
However, they usually select images of people who are attractive enough to seduce the average person, but not so beautiful they might be completely intimidating (except scammers who pretend to be fake models or working in porn). If your Nigerian scammer wants to “go big”, they might even pretend to be a celebrity.
Who You’re Talking To
Unless the scammer excels at speaking English convincingly, they will avoid talking to you on the phone (verbally). If you do speak to them, they might have a stand-in person talk with you someone who sounds American, but is paid by the scammer to participate in short fake calls, to “verify” their identity.
Other times, they will speak to you and send you a video of someone you believe to be them. If they send you a video, they have stolen it from YouTube or Instagram and edited their voice over someone not directly talking to the camera, all to keep up the ruse!
What They Will Do When You Get Suspicious
At some point, Nigerian scammers know that you are likely to become suspicious. Maybe they have asked you for money, and a trivial part of you worries about sending it since you’ve never met in person. They need you to believe everything they tell you, without question, so they have props or documents to support their story.
While these items might appear authentic at first glance, they are counterfeits which anyone with WiFi and computer access can create through Photoshop or editing apps. The documents they send might be fake job contracts (from their oil rig or contracting job), a copy of their passport (again, a fake), fraudulent oil contracts, counterfeit professional degrees, fake letters from attorneys, etc.
They might also become passive aggressive and hostile if you (continue to) question them. Their verbal abuse might cause you to back off and, if you don’t, they will distance themselves and block you.
Did you forget about them wanting money?
Well, your Nigerian scammer hasn’t! They might ask you for a small amount within a week or so of the meeting, to test the waters. For more significant amounts, they may wait several weeks or a month or so, once they are convinced you to trust them. They promise to pay you back, including interest.
They’re honest and rich, remember?
If you produce the money or Google Play/iTunes gift card they want, successfully, they will ask you again and again until you finally catch on to the truth, at which point they’ll disappear.
What Do They Ask For?
At first, it’s usually something relatively inexpensive, though there are no hard and fast rules and some Nigerian scammers will attempt to solicit more funds immediately. As we mentioned, a small item might be a gift card or an iTunes card. Some scammers say they lost their cell phone and need one mailed to them, “so they can keep in touch with you.”
This is important:
Every time you send them something they ask for, they automatically renew their interest in you and will ask again. Some common excuses Nigerian scammers give as to why they need a loan or gift:
They need money to get through customs, for modeling photos (usually women), oil rig repairs (usually men), wires of cash to see their children or family back home, for medical bills, computer/cell phone/laptop/tablets, money to post bail for jail, emergency money for supplies or repairs, for taxes, to bribe government officials, to come and visit you, etc.
What Limits Do Nigerian Scammers Have?
Generally, none. You could be recently widowed, recovering from surgery, or struggling to pay your mortgage and they will not care. They justify it to themselves that you live in the United States and have plenty of money. As they do this for a living and trick many others, they don’t experience much (if any) remorse.
If they do, it’s still not enough for them to leave their fraudulent profession. They may ask you to send them money from your paycheck, even if you need it, and promise to pay you back before your rent or bills are due.
You trust them, so why wouldn’t you help them out? Worse, when they’re in search of a big payday from you, they might ask you to take out a loan (remember, they’re paying you back!) on your home, sell your house, or max out your credit cards.
They could say that a friend or relative is sending them cash and if you could send or wire them money in the meantime, they’d appreciate it. If you claim that you can’t wire money, they might suggest you give them your bank account and routing information. The next thing you know, your bank account will be drained dry.
Although Nigerian romance scams are only part of the many scams perpetuated, they are often the most convincing and painful. If you don’t send your scammer the money or gifts they ask for, they will become persistent and aggressive. Continue to refuse and they will seem to switch personalities and behave in an emotionally abusive manner, to try and guilt you into complying.
If they think you’re at all sympathetic to their lifestyle, once you’ve caught and confronted them, they may lament the hardship of living in Nigeria and claim that they needed money to eat or support their parents or siblings.
While this is sometimes true, many scammers make enough money to live well. A scammer might continue the scam by saying they fell in love with you or ask you to accept money from others they are tricking and send it to them.
NO MATTER WHAT, DO NOT AGREE TO HELP!
The help of this manner is illegal because it’s a money laundering scheme, and you’ll be at risk of legal action from the F.B.I. Once you finally refuse all methods of helping them, they will block you and move on.
Social Catfish was recently able to connect with a genuine Nigerian scammer who was willing to be a whistleblower on the entire 419 scamming industry! He shared behind the scenes information with us and produced files that new Nigerian scammers use. These documents include everything that Nigerian scammers say to their victims, including what to say and do if they aren’t sent money.
The techniques they use are similar to prompts given to people who work in sales jobs. For each response or question you have, their chart lists an answer which a scammer can say to trick you further.
They have written it prompts on how to be flirty or give funny hellos, what to tell if they’re asked about hobbies, religion, even their favorite color. They have a script about their goals and motivators, if they smoke or drink, their inspirations, if they believe in true love or like sports, etc.
The most frightening thing of all is that scammers copy and paste these pre-made replies into messages. That means that what you thought of as a personal, detailed answer during conversations with a Nigerian scammer in disguise, was a preformed reply, that a scammer didn’t even think twice about.
We like to imagine that people follow the rules because they want to. That is true, to some extent. However, in the West African country of Nigeria, the legal climate is very different than in the United States. For the 190 million people who live in Nigeria, there is little oversight for those who scam others. Poverty abounds, and the average citizen lives on less than $2 per day. It is common to see a big divide between the rich and poor, with fancy neighborhoods surrounded by slums.
According to Mother Jones, Nigerian scammers make an average of $60,000 per year, which is a hefty payday in a country where people generally have so little. Roughly around 30 percent of their income goes to bribes (bribing government officials, those in the financial field, and skirting law enforcement).
With so many criminals on their payroll, no one reports the scammers dirty deeds. Add to this the fact that many Nigerian people live in slums without running water or electricity, and it is easy to see why young people want the life of a scammer. Some still feel ashamed and hide the truth about what they do from their families, but their crimes help themselves, and their loved ones survive.
Since the Nigerian government is filled with corruption, even though it is illegal to scam others and violates legal section 419 in Nigeria, the government doesn’t generally help romance scam victims. Worse, these types of scams are increasing in number even though the Nigerian government created the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission).
The EFCC has had some success in arresting crime rings of scammers or fraudulent criminals. However, the problem is by no means solved and is getting worse yearly. The United States F.B.I. reports that some victims travel to Nigeria where they are imprisoned and held for ransom! The Australian government also has a site called Scamwatch, which lists the total number and type of scams in their area, showing that no country is safe from Nigerian scams.
As you will see through the emails sampled below, many of the warning signs that we talk about are used by actual Nigerian scammers. Here are the warning signs you should look for, so you are never a victim of this type of fraud.
Warning Sign #1: Someone you meet online claims to be out of the state, country, or your geographic area.
Tip: Make a rule to yourself that you won’t get romantically or financially involved with anyone you haven’t met in person and who doesn’t live close to you.
Warning Sign #2: They come on too strong and push you to take immediate action or require secrecy.
Tip: If anyone you haven’t met in person is coming on too strong and pressuring you for financial help or declaring their love and attachment immediately, they are probably scammer.
Warning Sign #3: They always have an excuse. They still have an explanation as to why they cannot talk on the phone, access cash, pay you back, or see you, etc.
Tip: Recognize that these are fake excuses to con you.
Warning Sign #4: They write you often and have long “perfect” answers for your every concern.
Tip: This is because they are in a hurry for you to trust them and get your cash. Some may use the same generic answers with everyone.
Warning Sign #5: If you met them on a game, dating site, or app, they immediately push for you to message them on a separate service.
Tip: This is because they know they will be found out and blocked by the site, or because they don’t want to pay for service.
Warning Sign #6: They have a unique way of writing and talking. They write differently and more formally than most, yet claim to be born and raised in America.
Tip: This is one of the biggest giveaways that you’re being scammed.
Warning Sign #7: They won’t talk via video chat. Usually, people who are dating and falling in love long distance want to video chat all the time. If they send you a doctored video, it might be of someone they don’t know, using a voice over.
Tip: If they make excuses as to why they cannot get video chat or talk on the phone, be suspicious.
Warning Sign #8: Your intuition matters.
Tip: While some Nigerian scammers can pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, most victims remember a moment when they had a nagging suspicion that they ignored or didn’t follow up on.
Warning Sign #9: The biggest red flag is when someone online sends you a request for money. If this happens on a website, block and report that user to the site, app, or forum you met them on.
Tip: If you’ve already lost funds report it to the F.B.I.’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
Filing with the IC3 does not serve as notice to your credit card company regarding unauthorized charges. Contact your credit card company and banking institutions directly.
Steve Weisman from Scamicide has the following to say:
There are various red flags to help you identify romance scams. The most important thing to remember is always to be skeptical of anyone who falls in love with you quickly online without ever meeting you and early into the relationship, who then asks you to wire money to assist them with a wide range of phony emergencies.
Here are a few other things to look for to help identify an online romance scam. Often their profile picture is stolen from a modeling website on the Internet. If the image looks too professional and the person looks too much like a model, you should be wary. You also can check on the legitimacy of photographs by seeing if they have been used elsewhere by doing a reverse image search.
Particular phrases, such as “Remember the distance or color does not matter, but love matters a lot in life,” is a phrase that turns up in many romance scam emails. Also, be on the lookout for bad spelling and grammar as many of the romance scammers claim to be Americans, but are foreigners lying about where they are and who they are.
Of course, you should be particularly concerned if someone falls in love with you almost immediately. Often they will ask you to use a webcam, but will not use one themselves. This is another red flag.
One thing you may want to do is ask them to take a picture of themselves holding up a sign with their name on it. Also, ask for several pictures because, generally, when the scammers are stealing photos of models from websites, they do not have many photographs. Ask for the image to be at a particular place that you designate to test them further. If you meet someone through a dating website, be particularly wary if they ask you to leave the dating service and go “offline”.
Many Nigerian scammers ask their victims to send online gift cards. According to a fraud specialist for the F.B.I., Emma Fletcher, this is becoming the preferred method as it is quick and anonymous and the scammer receives the gift immediately, without the use of a middleman, while the scam usually isn’t reversible.
All a scammer needs is a digital code or picture of the gift card, and they can immediately use it online. There is a small downside, for the scammer, when a gift card is converted to cryptocurrency on sites like Paxful, some money is lost in the price fluctuations (sometimes 40 to 80 cents on the dollar!). A scammer probably won’t ask for thousands of dollars in gift cards alone.
Wanting to avoid fees and for those scammers who wish to a bigger payday, they may still prefer to cash or money wire services such as Western Union. Since Western Union is aware of Nigerian romance scams and the negative impact these stories have on their business model, we reached out to them for a comment regarding this, and they said:
“Consumer fraud is an issue that impacts the entire financial services industry – it is not unique to Western Union by any means. Western Union takes the issue of consumer protection very seriously – we care about people who use our services. They work hard for their money and this is why we work hard to educate them about various types of consumer fraud and how to help protect themselves.
West African fraud rings are certainly a significant part of the consumer fraud problem, notably those originating from Nigeria and Ghana. It is not, of course, the only region in which we see fraud – it is a relatively small but no-less-important region for our company.
Western Union maintains a multi-faceted compliance program, which includes anti-fraud and anti-money laundering components. The program is continually evolving as we work to stay ahead of bad actors and to address new patterns of illicit activity. We are committed to enhancing our compliance programs to detect, prevent, deter and report illicit activity on our network and protect customers who transfer money to friends, family and businesses.
Components of our Fraud Risk Management program include:
There are a few things we can control in life, and being tricked by a Nigerian scammer in a romance scam is one of them. The more we practice recognizing scammers, the better we become at noticing the language of scams and putting a stop to being tricked by anyone.
We begin to trust and protect ourselves more and respond with our intuition when we meet people online or, even, in person. We block and report suspicious profiles quickly and notice scam specific language. The more people who speak out, the better.
Crane Hassold, who previously worked as a digital behavior analyst for the F.B.I. and is now the senior director of threat research at Agari, described employees being tricked by Nigerian scammers like this:
If you believe you have been tricked or scammed by a Nigerian scammer, do the following immediately:
Uncover Nigerian Scammers by Looking Them up by Email:
Our proprietary algorithm will help you quickly look up Nigerian scammers by email, username, phone number, image, and name. You can verify if someone is who they say they are or catch Nigerian romance scams using our reverse image search! Not sure where to start? Consider having back-up and getting assistance from one of our Search Specialist. They know where to look first!