As early as the beginning of the 20th century, at a time when the telephone was a luxury item, ‘romance scams’ through letters have already existed. This was a time when terms like the ‘lonely hearts ads’ and ‘mail-order brides’ started to be popular. After the First World War, many widows of deceased soldiers have fallen victims to romance scammers. After the Second World War, another wave of victims came about.
The Pen Pal Scammer
The procedure had always been the same. The scammer, a male or female person, would post an ad in the personal section of a newspaper looking for a new lover, ideally a lonely widow or a widower. Men and women desperate for romance would reply to the ads and the exchange of letters would start. They would use the right words, show interest in the victim, and appear to sympathize with the victims' loneliness. Once trust has been built, the scammer would then start talking about made-up financial problems, like emergencies, hospital bills, or debts, and start asking for money, gradually increasing the amount in time.
Blinded by the promise of real love, victims would later report of being deceived by alluring photographs, which also happened to be bogus. While some would send portraits of random men or women with good looks, others would claim to be wealthy by sending photographs of them standing in front of luxury cars and mansions, or sitting in a yacht.
The reports exposed by those who personally experienced pen pal scams vary. Some were lucky to get away safe from their perpetrators, while others ended up losing large amounts of money.
The Phone Pal Scammer
When the telephone became a part of everyday lives and many households started to own one, people became indulged in making phone pals, which later on also resulted in romantic relationships. Soon enough, romance frauds also started to use the telephone to find their victims.
Because the telephone was relatively new to many, it was a mysterious medium of communication and it offered the scammers opportunity to hide their true identity. Some tricksters were reported to have warm soothing voices, making the hearer imagine a handsome or beautiful person speaking on the other end of the line. The fake lover would court the victim until the latter has fallen in love. The fake lover would show up in branded clothes driving a rented car to convince the victim. Some victims were widows or widowers, while some were lonely spouses of wealthy businessmen.
The phone pal romance frauds were usually excellent communicators and educated, which contributed to their convincing powers, since most people would never doubt articulate people to be criminals. Like the pen pal scammers, the phone pal scammer would also ask for financial help, and the victims would comply believing they were doing a good deed.
The Internet Scammer
At the present, the number of romance scams victims has increased thanks to the internet. English as lingua franca made it even easier for scammers to reach international shores, so that it has become a global phenomenon and has been discussed on television as countless victims reported of their experiences.
Online scammers get information about the victims by simply going through their data found in the social media, especially in Facebook. Like the phone pal scammers, these present-day scammers are well versed in expressing
convincing words to deceive lonely men and women, who are often in their 50s and 60s.
These fake lovers are known to have strong personalities backed with impressive background stories. Their excellent communication skills leave no room for doubts. They would pose to be of high status and would claim to enjoy a luxurious life as a successful professional, a wealthy businessman, or someone with high position in the military.
With photos to support these lies, the victim gets attracted to the scammer. To appear more credible, some would go as far as introducing fake family members, each with their own Facebook accounts, knowing that most people would feel more secured and at ease around others who are close to parents and siblings. Once they had their full attention, they would make the victims longing for more. The scammers would even promise to visit the victims in the future.
To erase the remaining doubts, the scammer would claim to trust the victims by sharing their secret assets and bank accounts with them. Once the gullible victims had fallen in love with the online lover, the modus operandi of coming up with excuses to ask for financial help begins.
The following stories are only a few of many. First is the case of one of my relatives who fell in love with a man she met online who later planned to visit her. On the day of his arrival, this man wrote that he got detained at an airport in Malaysia and that he had lost his belongings including his money during the confusion. He asked if she could send money to his account and promised to pay her twice the amount as soon as he arrived to her place. My relative confided with her accountant about the situation since she could not think clearly anymore, as she was blindly in love.
The accountant advised her to write the person that although she wanted to help, she does not have the amount he was asking for. The man stopped communicating immediately after that. Meanwhile, another close family friend said she also was nearly victimized. She said that she enjoyed the flirting online until the time the guy wanted to send a package, which she has to pay for first in order to receive it. He promised to pay her double the amount she will send on the day they will meet. However, she got scared of receiving a package from him, thinking it would be filled with harmful objects. After she wrote that she did not want to receive the package, she has not heard from him ever again.
In this last case, a woman fell in love with a fake lover who promised to make her his business partner. She trusted him with her bank accounts and wired him all the money he asked for. Since she had his name and address, she flew all the way to this man’s country without notifying him. But much to her dismay, there was no one living in the said address with the same name. Even the police had no records of him. When she tried to reach out to him online, she can no longer access his account. She has lost a lot of money, and the whole situation has caused her depression.
This crime is one that is difficult to solve since the culprits have fake identities and the victims seemed to have willingly transferred the money themselves . When you encounter such situations, think a million times over. Consult your friends and loved ones for advice. And above all, pray for guidance.
Dear fellow members of the Philippine community in Berlin, may these stories be a warning to you and your friends, to take extra care when meeting a suspicious person in Facebook and in dating apps.