Nigerians are becoming well-known for their involvement in dating or romance scams. Scammers prey on those looking for love connections, generally through dating websites, apps, or social media, by posing as potential partners. They use emotional manipulation to persuade them to provide money, gifts, or personal information.
According to CNN, federal authorities have charged ten people in Oklahoma, New York, California, and Texas with conspiring to launder money obtained through a romance scam targeting women nationwide.
Five of the individuals charged were arrested in Norman, Oklahoma; one was arrested in Brooklyn, New York; and one was arrested in Long Beach, California. Three of the suspects escaped.
According to a federal indictment released by the US District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, the suspects – the majority of whom were Nigerian – would initiate online relationships with women and falsely claim to be US citizens working overseas. They target women on dating websites and social media platforms, and created dating profiles using fictitious names, locations, and images.
The victims originated from a variety of locations, including Seminole, Florida; Centerville, Ohio; and Pryor, Oklahoma. They lost nearly $1.1 million in total, including one who sent cash and goods worth $546,000.
This type of incident occurs more frequently than you might believe, and while there are several scams online, few are as destructive as these.
The Federal Trade Commission reports that Americans lost $143 million to romance scams in 2018, with the average victim losing over $2,600. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Commission (IC3) reported receiving over 15,000 allegations of romantic scams in 2016. In 2020, romance scams reported a record of $304 million in losses to the Federal Trade Commission. This is an increase of around 50% over the previous year.
It’s not just the money that’s at stake in these types of scams; the victims have generally developed an emotional attachment to their scammers, believing them to be real and prospective life mates. That only adds to their anguish when they become heartbroken as the scammers make off with their money or savings.
Most reports show that many of these schemes to defraud vulnerable people looking for love start in Nigeria, where a thriving underground economy of scammers sets up profiles on online dating sites and sweet chats unwary victims into parting with their funds.
What is a Romance Scam?
Dating or romance scam entails posing as a potential date or love partner on the internet in order to connect with someone. A fake picture of someone exceptionally attractive is frequently used to lure people to respond to love propositions. To lure someone into a scam, a fake profile is built with false information. The creation of a false online identity is known as Catfishing. Emails and other messages are exchanged once someone responds or appears receptive to a romantic relationship. Over time, trust is earned.
Following the establishment of confidence based on false pretenses, solicitations for money or other items begin. Asking someone to donate money or presents is a form of dating fraud. In other situations, the fraud entails requesting that someone transmit intimate images or provide personal identifying information or financial account information. The intimate photographs might be used to blackmail someone or placed on pornographic websites, while the personal identifying information could be utilized in identity theft frauds.
How Does a Dating or Romance Scam Work?
Scammers frequently conduct dating and romance scams via online dating websites, but they may also contact victims via social media or email. They have even been known to initiate contact with their victims by phone. Catfishing is another term for these schemes.
Scammers frequently construct fictitious online personas to entice you. They may use a made-up name or impersonate real, trustworthy individuals such as military personnel, aid workers, or professionals working abroad.
Scammers will express intense emotions for you in a short period of time and will advise that you take the connection away from the internet and onto a more private channel, such as phone, email, or instant messaging. They frequently claim to be Australians or residents of another western country but are actually traveling or working in another country.
Scammers will go to great lengths to pique your interest and earn your trust, including showering you with love words, providing ‘personal information,’ and even giving you gifts. They may spend months cultivating what appears to be a lifetime romance and may even pre-book airfare to visit you but never arrive.
Once they have acquired your trust and your defenses have been breached, they will ask you for money, gifts, or your banking/credit card information (subtly or directly). Additionally, they may request that you submit photographs or videos of yourself, maybe of a personal nature.
Frequently, the scammer will claim that they require the funds for a personal emergency. For instance, they may assert that they have a critically ill family member who requires immediate medical attention, such as an expensive operation, or they may assert financial difficulties as a result of an unlucky run of bad luck, such as a failed business or street mugging. Additionally, the fraudster may pretend they wish to visit you but are unable to do so without your assistance in covering their airline or other travel expenditures.
Occasionally, the scammer may give you important products such as laptop computers and cell phones and would request that you resend them to a different location. They will fabricate a reason why they require your assistance in delivering the products, but this is really a cover for their illicit activities. Alternatively, they may request that you purchase the goods and ship them yourself. You may even be required to accept funds into your bank account and subsequently transfer them to another individual.
Occasionally, the scammer will inform you of a significant sum of money or gold they are transferring out of their nation and give you a portion. They’ll explain that they require your funds to cover administrative costs or taxes.
Dating and romance scammers can also be a threat to your physical safety, as they are frequently affiliated with international criminal networks. Scammers may seek to lure victims overseas, placing them in potentially perilous situations with terrible effects.
Regardless of the method used to defraud you, you could end up losing a significant amount of money. Each year, billions of people are duped globally by online dating and romance frauds. Money sent to scammers is nearly always unrecoverable, and you may also experience long-lasting emotional betrayal at the hands of someone you believed loved you.
How To Avoid Online Dating Scams
You should be able to avoid online dating scams and maintain greater general online safety once you know how to recognize if someone is scamming you online. When using dating services and social media to meet individuals, take the following precautions:
- Check and double-check everything. Conduct an online search to verify the person’s identity, including their name, photo, location, email address, and other facts.
- Slow down and seek advice from someone you can trust. Tell a friend or family member about your issue, and talk with them about your future steps. A romance scammer may try to isolate you from your friends and family, or force you to make hasty decisions on your own. Don’t be rushed into making a decision by a fraudster.
- Please do not transfer any money. Never give money to an internet love interest through wire transfer, gift card, or cash reload card. You’re not going to get it back.
- Report any money you’ve previously sent. If you suspect you’ve sent money to a scammer, contact your bank straight away.
Penalties For Dating or Romance Scams in Nigeria
Engaging in an online romance scam might result in criminal charges being brought against you in court. This is especially when the scam takes place across international borders. Internet fraud, identity theft, and bank fraud, among other crimes, are all prohibited under federal law. A charge of wire fraud or mail fraud for exploiting the wire service or the postal service in a wire transfer scam or any form of online romance scam can result in a lengthy prison sentence.
Do I Need a Lawyer If I am a Victim of a Romance Scam in Nigeria?
Even if you are successful in prosecuting a scammer, it is unlikely that you will be able to recover any of the money you have lost. Unfortunately, more often than not, there is no one to answer to or hold accountable following a romantic fraud. Along with a wounded heart, you’ll be left with mountains of debt and the hope that the person with whom you fell in love is genuine.
Romance scams are the most often reported type of scam. These kinds of scams can happen to anyone. Consultation with a compassionate bankruptcy lawyer will assist you in resetting this unfathomable scenario.
Olisa Agbakoba Legal (OAL) is a Nigerian law firm that specializes in bankruptcies. Contact us today to schedule a complimentary consultation with an experienced, sympathetic bankruptcy attorney.
Do I Need a Lawyer If I am Accused of a Romance Scam in Nigeria?
Romance fraud is a serious offense, even if you believe the victim profited from the scam by getting your time and energy. However, you may still face prison time and monetary penalties as a result of your criminal acts. You may even face charges of identity theft if your strategy involves catfishing and the use of another’s identities.
Olisa Agbakoba Legal (OAL) has extensive experience defending clients who have been accused of participating in any type of online dating scam. We provide guidance throughout your case to facilitate the development of a strategic plan for responding to the charges, which may involve fighting conviction, negotiating a plea agreement, or pursuing dismissal of the charges.
Contact a criminal lawyer at OAL to learn more about the charge and viable defenses associated with dating or romance scams in Nigeria.
Lead Digital Strategist, OAL