Loves walks on the beach and ... money laundering

Dear Madam, I am a Nigerian banker looking to break your heart and steal your money.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

Published April 22, 2008 10:30AM (EDT)

CNN has a public service announcement for all you single ladies looking for love online: Beware of romance fraud! Apparently, Nigerian banking schemes are for amateurs; super-skilled scam artists search out sad singles on dating Web sites and pull at their purse- and heartstrings. The scammers try to tap into what every woman wants, as told by the Lifetime channel: They pose as goodhearted businessmen (for example, one scammer claimed to be the owner of a diamond mine who built orphanages in his free time), and make reckless use of the future tense and the word "we." Once the woman is emotionally hooked, they will commonly tell stories of theft or injury that require an immediate transfer of money that will be -- of course! -- quickly paid back.

If you think the above scenario raises a red flag the size of that scammer's Nigerian estate, the Web site lists some even more unbelievable tactics:

--Scammer asks for money to give to her/his family as a promise to the family. They claim this is a "tradition" or a "wedding custom"

--Scammer has a vision that he/she and the victim has to obey where God wants them to donate half of their monthly income for a month. The scammer went on a fast for 3 days and during that time God revealed to him/her where they would donate this money (sending it by WU) to some needy community Nigeria.

--Scammer has funds belonging to Saddam Hussein's family in a consignment registered as Government Diplomatic Package and insured by the International Guarantee bond (IGB). Amount is $21 Million us dollars. They want to move this money to "victim" because Iraq is a war zone, so that the victim may invest it for scammer.

Yeah, and my pal Osama promises to come out of hiding if a nice American woman like yourself would just front me a couple thou'! The truth, though, is that these schemes sometimes work. Romance Scams has had more than 30,000 members since its start three years ago; 883 members have reported monetary losses that add up to a whopping $8,244,800.05. But those seven figures don't account for all the women "losing their hearts," as Patrish Giocolo, the site's moderator and a victim of romance fraud, told CNN. Indeed, the scammers often invest six to eight months in developing a relationship with the women they're scamming. And even once the jig is up, some scammers turn to intimidation (e.g., sending the victim their own obituary) or blackmail (e.g., threatening to expose nude photos or webcam screen shots) to keep the money flowing.

This article is a fine reminder to be cautious of any Internet romances that might inspire a soft-focus Lifetime drama. But, keep in mind that fewer than 900 women have reported successful romance fraud to Romance Scam, and there are an estimated 7,400,000 Internet users looking for love online.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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