Love seekers lose millions to social media scams

Love seekers lose millions to social media scams

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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission receives an average of 200 complaints arising from romance/friendship scam against Nigerians from foreign nationals every year, our correspondent has learnt.
According to sources at the Abuja and Lagos offices of the anti-graft agency, victims of such phony relationships would ordinarily believe that they had made new friends online until they had become victims of financial scams.
“It is in the course of this they fall prey to virtual scams, losing several millions of dollars,” a source at the anti-graft agency said.
He disclosed that the agency “has so far this year handled about 120 cases with the latest involving a middle-aged Chinese businessman, who deposited RM67, 000 into an account before realising he was dealing with a con man.”
Our correspondent gathered that authorities had already put tabs on some suspects, following a formal complaint by victims.
It was further learnt that operatives of the anti-graft agency relied more on the power of forensics in carrying out their investigations.
The agency, it was gathered, had also partnered similar organisations with a view to getting to the root of such a scam.
“The scams, are obviously becoming an embarrassment to the country. We have lately realised that the targeted victims are usually women; out of the cases handled this year so far, 80 victims are women and are within the age bracket of 30s to their 50s; and about 30 per cent of the cases remain unsolved,” a source said.
Another top source pointed to two common schemes; one involving an alleged valuable parcel that a suspect wants to send to his victim, and the other called a “Casanova scam,” involving some elements of romance.
“Majority of the incidents are of the former ‘parcel’ variety, at about 21 cases compared to the Casanova love scams at 80 cases, although both run into several millions of dollars,” he disclosed.
Our correspondent was informed that the scams were usually initiated through social media platforms like Facebook, WeChat and Skype, and that the suspect would take time to get to know his victim and earn his trust. The entire process usually takes about six months or thereabout.
“Once the victims are comfortable, the suspect then tells them they want to send them a package with valuable possessions and money as a token of their friendship, and even sends them a copy of an alleged courier delivery slip for authenticity.
“Then they will get a phone call from a ‘local authority’ like the Customs Department, asking them for a ‘fee’ to release the parcel. Once the victim believes them and banks it in, then they get another call, this time around, from an embassy from the suspect’s country, telling them the imported items are ‘protected’ and they need an ‘anti-terrorist certificate,” a source added.
Of course, the “Casanova scams” are similar, but usually involving a suspect claiming that he had been detained by the immigration service and requires a “release fee” and guarantor.
“At this point, some gullible victims begin to suspect they are being scammed while others continue to pay the money,” the source said.
Speaking with our correspondent on the scam, the spokesperson of the EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, said, “Indeed, the commission has made many arrests and successfully prosecuted some of the cases.”
Uwujaren admitted that some of the cases already handled by the anti-graft agency’s operatives were extremely hard to solve due to the virtual nature of the crime.
“The suspects can be anywhere and are hard to trace as they use fake profile photos of either Very Important Personalities (VIPs) or foreigners alike,” he said.
An independent source in the Lagos office of the agency said that in most cases, “the bank account used for the money can be another crime on its own.”

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