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Cyber crime instead of love
Cyber crime instead of love

They steal identities from the net, fake women who love them and rob them of their money. Romance Scamming is an organized crime and multimillion dollar business. We know how the fake lovers proceed and where to find support.

romance scam
romance scam

His message popped up on her Facebook account one evening: "I like your profile picture. You look like a wonderful person." Raymond was smart, in his early 50s, in a leading position in a timber company in Canada. Widowed, fond of animals and single parent of a 15-year-old daughter. "I wasn't looking for a man, but with him I became curious and felt flattered," says Kristina Schäfer, 48. After two days of short chats, he showered the divorced mother of an adult son with compliments, spoke of love, a common future: "He made me happy, made me fly. And he was just there when I needed him."

Three weeks later, the first setback: "Raymond asked me to transfer a little money to his daughter, who was currently on a student exchange in Germany. His credit card didn't work." Despite doubts, the board secretary sent 500 euros: "A child in distress, all alarm bells went off for me." They only began to shriek when, after three more months, they had sent him almost 20,000 euros: "It slowly dawned on me that something could not be right. Every time these new excuses why he was not yet able to repay me."

The anger is unbearable

Unfortunately, Kristina's story is not an isolated incident when it comes to love fraud on the internet. Romance scammers are now appearing on all conceivable social media channels: Facebook, Instagram, all dating portals, Twitter, even on eBay, autoscout or pet shop sites. Nothing about the fraudsters - behind which in truth criminal organizations from Kenya, Congo, the USA or Australia are - is real. The process always works according to a similar "script": First the criminals shower their victims with oaths of love and fantasize about a future together. In order to build trust, they pretend to take care of their counterpart and often ask about their worries and everyday problems. After a few weeks, the first monetary claims come. Usually the guy pretends to have got into an emergency through no fault of his own. The photos of the handsome men copy the gangs of online profiles of real, unsuspecting people.

Tamer Bakiner, 48, was on the trail of romance scammers in Kenya for the RTL series "The Truth Hunter". He was shocked by the cold-bloodedness of the perpetrators and how impossible it is to take action against them.

WOMAN: How does such a fraud develop?

Tamer Bakiner: Most women have been alone for several years, have given up, and then suddenly the dream man appears on their social media profile. Great job, looks good, says every day, also over the phone, how great you are. The talks run like this for two or three months, you become dependent on the voice. Then the scammer doesn't answer for a few days to test how addicted the woman is to him. She becomes restless. If they then get in touch and their victim says: 'Never leave me alone again!', The trap snaps shut and the demand for money begins.

WOMAN: Which profiles do the scammers fake?

Tamer Bakiner: Widowers and single parents are popular. You claim to live in the USA or Australia, on a ship, an oil rig or in the military. This is where the manipulation begins. He is difficult to reach, but promises to always stay in contact. Then suddenly the credit card is lost. When scammers realize that the person is difficult to crack, they resort to phone sex. They'll grab most of them with it. A victim once said to me that it made her have better sex than ever with a real man.

"When scammers find out that the person is difficult to crack, they resort to phone sex."

WOMAN: Who is actually behind this?

Tamer Bakiner: Mostly English speaking Africans. Often they also take turns. That is, you are actually writing with different men. Therefore, on some days, your English skills are suddenly worse.

WOMAN: Are they always gangs?

Tamer Bakiner: Different. I met a top scammer in the course of my undercover investigation. He only travels around the world by plane to collect the money from the various accounts. Others do the dirty work for him. Then there are small fraudsters who live in villages with their wives and children. You earn 1,000 euros a month, that's enough. I spoke to one of them: He was very tough: 'There are so many stupid people in Europe who transfer money just because they are told nice things. And we're making a great life. ' That's how they talk.

"Even if you trace everything back, the money is gone."

WOMAN: How can you protect your account from the perpetrators?

Tamer Bakiner: Don't publicly post photos of expensive vacations or interesting jobs. Never send money to people you've never met! Not even if a video chat or meeting took place. The information could not be correct. Do not pass on nude photos or private information that could make you blackmail. Search for his photo, name, email address and phone number via Google. Take a close look at his account: does he have very few friends or all of them female? Are there many posts and reactions from friends?

WOMAN: What are the chances of getting your money back?

Tamer Bakiner: None, unfortunately. And paying lawyers or detectives means wasting even more money. If you have transferred amounts, it will be withdrawn within a few minutes. Even if you trace everything back, the money is gone.

WOMAN: How will this continue?

Tamer Bakiner: Only when the social media checkers wake up and check all profiles for authenticity could that be contained. As long as that doesn't happen, it will keep exploding.

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