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Book review: ‘Keanu Reeves Is not in Love With You’ by Becky Holmes | #DatingScams | #LoveScams | #RomanceScans


In 2022 alone, according to some estimates, hopeful singles looking to find love online lost between $30 billion and $50 billion to scammers. Online romance scams come in a dizzying array of iterations — there are the now-familiar Nigerian princes and the lonely military personnel trying to get home, then there are the pig butchers, the Tinder swindlers, the Nigerian Yahoo Boys and their Ghanaian corollary, the Sakawa boys. But there are also scams that don’t have names yet, scams whose devastating effects are almost certainly already playing out in lives the world over. It’s enough to make a girl permanently delete her dating apps, or maybe just throw her phone straight into the ocean.

And if you’re anything like Becky Holmes, it might be enough to radicalize you.

Better known to her social media followers as @deathtospinach, Holmes’s journey into the dark underbelly of romance fraud began innocuously enough. Like many, she joined Twitter in 2020 during the early days of the covid pandemic. And like many, she was instantly bombarded with messages from “impossibly handsome men who were absolutely desperate to get to know me.”

At first, like most, Holmes simply blocked and reported her would-be lovers. But as she documents in her new book, “Keanu Reeves Is Not In Love With You: The Murky World of Online Romance Fraud,” out of a mixture of boredom and curiosity she soon began corresponding with these scammers, who were impersonating not only oil rig engineers and doctors but also, rather implausibly, celebrities. After Holmes started sharing her exchanges with a royal flush of faux-celebrities — from Reeves to Liam Neeson, from Prince William to Elon Musk — with her growing audience, victims of these scams began to reach out with stories of their own. It is these stories, many of which ended in heartbreak and financial ruin, that form the backbone of “Keanu Reeves Is Not in Love with You.”

One need only look at the online response to a recent essay by the Cut’s financial advice columnist Charlotte Cowles, in which she details how she lost $50,000 to an “Amazon” scam call, to understand that the average reaction to online fraud victims is derision. It’s fear of that reaction that keeps victims of these scams from speaking to the press or the police. Fortunately, Holmes, a self-described “technological dunce,” belongs to neither institution. Her expertise is delivered in homespun prose with pops of vulgar blue. At times, she veers off into the sort of asides that one might expect in a Twitter thread or a Tumblr post, describing in detail the war she waged — and lost — against a source’s Maine coon cat or frequently declaring her love for the Italian vermouth Cinzano.

There are benefits to this approach. Few professional writers could get away with describing a private detective and expert on the Sakawa Boys as “a well-dressed sexy bugger with eyelashes that any woman would pay thousands of pounds for.” And Holmes (who is British, if that wasn’t clear) is at her strongest when drawing on her relationships to the victims she’s befriended. Her prose radiates empathy, with none of the artificial distance that journalists or academics enforce between themselves and their subjects. The result is firsthand stories of women whose lives were ruined — or, at least, whose life savings were emptied — because they had the audacity to desire love. Women who were, almost without exception, left with little legal or financial recourse to recoup their losses due to both the international and digital nature of most of these crimes as well as the impotence of the government bureaus newly tasked with prosecuting them.

By the end of “Keanu Reeves Is Not In Love With You,” Holmes’s charming grasp of romance fraud, unpolished as it is, is undeniable. Still, her autodidactism has its limits. During the course of her research, Holmes accessed a message from a Yahoo Boy which she describes as the most “vitriolic” statement she’s ever read, “even in fiction.” Yahoo Boys are the spiritual descendants of the Nigerian prince — their name comes from the woebegone email service, and they’ve been linked to a surge of social media sextortion in the United States. In the message that Holmes publishes verbatim, the anonymous scammer writes, “When your British people was colonizing, enslaving, exploiting and impoverishing us, stealing our crude oil and other natural resources, creating artificial boundaries in Africa, making us hungry and the dying breeds, what were you thinking/ How do you want us to survive?” The scammer goes on to threaten the message’s recipient, promising to “use your picture for impersonation too.”

It’s a vile message, sure, and that is largely where Holmes’s analysis of it stops. But there’s a thread that a different writer might have pulled on: Could the Yahoo boys exist without the aftershocks of British imperialism? It’s a line of inquiry worth pursuing: The top three countries when it comes to running online scams (Nigeria, Ghana and Malaysia) are all former British colonies. To ignore the history of colonial extraction that gave rise to the Yahoo Boys and their ilk is to do a disservice — to them and their victims.

It’s one of Holmes’s few missteps. The compassion that makes this book so persuasive isn’t reserved just for the mostly Western victims of romance fraud. When Holmes learns of the thousands of people held captive in scam compounds in countries like Cambodia, her own bitterness at a state of affairs that allows this kind of human trafficking to go largely unpunished is clear. “When I learned of this, I had to keep checking to make sure I’d got it right,” Holmes writes of the compounds, where abductees are forced to perpetrate the very crimes she’d been rebuffing and mocking. “We are well into the twenty-first century — how the hell is this happening?” There are dozens of answers to her question, running the gamut from sociological to geopolitical to philosophical. But what Holmes makes clear is that those answers don’t really matter to the victims of these crimes, or to those who, sometimes unwillingly, commit them.

Rachelle Hampton is a culture writer for Slate and host of the internet culture podcast “In Case You Missed It.”

Keanu Reeves Is not in Love with You

The Murky World of Online Romance Fraud





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