I’m in love with a Nigerian internet fraudster: The women who carry on loving romance scammers even after the man’s been exposed as a fraud – and taken them to the cleaners | #DatingScams | #LoveScams | #RomanceScans

Like many women who become the victims of romance scammers operating overseas, Sammie, 41, was going through a challenging time when she met a man who said he was a 45-year-old civil engineer called Rob.

He contacted her out of the blue via Instagram just as she was getting divorced. As the weeks passed, they began to grow closer.

After a while he told her how his sick father needed money for an operation, that his bank accounts had been frozen and that he needed help. Sammie sent him several thousand pounds and also bought Bitcoin for him — effectively laundering cash he sent her — only to discover the pictures he was using were all stolen and the identity a fabrication.

For many people reading stories like Sammie’s, it’s hard to comprehend why so many apparently sensible women send money to romance fraudsters. 

‘Normal’ theft is where people have possessions taken from them and have no contact with the perpetrators, except if it involves violence or the threat of it. 

Victims themselves often feel huge shame and embarrassment and don’t tell anyone what’s happened to them, not even their families (Stock image)

In romance fraud — where, in very basic terms, the perpetrator makes a fake online profile to lure someone into a relationship purely to steal from them — the victim willingly hands their money over.

The truth is, it’s a very complex crime. Most of us don’t look beyond that acquiescent handover of cash and as a result there’s a lot less sympathy for victims, even when they’ve lost tens of thousands of pounds.

The victims themselves often feel huge shame and embarrassment and don’t tell anyone what’s happened to them, not even their families. Especially not their families.

Indeed, I firmly believe romance fraud is one of the most under-reported crimes in the country. 

Officially, the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau received 8,036 reports of romance fraud in the last year, amounting to more than £92million lost, with an average loss per victim of £11,500.

But in my view these sorts of statistics are inaccurate — they should be much higher.

I know the huge toll it’s taking on people. Bored during lockdown, I joined Twitter three years ago and immediately found my inbox crammed with messages from impossibly handsome men desperate to get to know me.

In idle moments, I’d string them along, sending more and more absurd responses to their requests, then post their replies online. 

Gradually, I began to enjoy a minor social media fame, which led to many genuine victims of romance fraud messaging me directly and telling me their stories, often for the first time.

And what I discovered about the women at the centre of these heartbreaking stories, which I document in my book titled Keanu Reeves Is Not In Love With You (because scammers sometimes pose as celebrities), is that they’re often intelligent and successful, but also, for one reason or another, particularly susceptible at the moment they’re contacted.

Every single victim I spoke to had something going on in their lives that was affecting them emotionally in some way.

I spoke to one lady dealing with cancer, for example; one whose husband was dying; and one in the middle of an acrimonious divorce. 

All sent money to the scammers out of kindness, wanting to help the person they thought they were in a relationship with and cared about. It’s not weak or stupid to want to help the person you think is your partner.

These women understandably don’t want to believe the evidence that, to friends and family, seems obvious proof of a scam. 

They want the lovely soft pink of romance, not the horrid spiky brown of reality. It’s why the victims are often accused of being in denial.

In fact, in so called ‘follow-up scams’, even when the fraudster has been unmasked, the victim will sometimes carry on messaging the perpetrator under his real name because they believe they are still in love with him.

These women want the lovely soft pink of romance, not the horrid spiky brown of reality (Stock image)

These women want the lovely soft pink of romance, not the horrid spiky brown of reality (Stock image)

That was the case with Sammie. She eventually discovered that ‘Rob’ was a 20-year-old scammer from Nigeria. And, once she knew, she still wanted to talk to this young man who had captured her heart.

He told her his real name was Smith, and they both cried over the phone, with Sammie describing him as ‘remorseful’. He set up a new account using his own photograph and they carried on messaging.

He told her he had used the money she had given him to get out of Nigeria and that he was now living in Cyprus, where he wanted to start college. He said he had fallen for her and couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her.

Smith told her that, aside from the lies about the circumstances, when he talked to her as Rob, it was how he always felt as himself. She said: ‘It was like having him back.’

After a few months, he started to ask her for money again. Sammie was angry and the relationship cooled, but a couple of weeks later he messaged her through Snapchat with a love heart — and she messaged straight back. 

He didn’t open the message and hasn’t been in touch with her since.

I asked her: ‘If he messaged you today would you forgive him?’ She looked down, gave a small smile and said: ‘I dunno.’ Then she started crying and it was horrible to see.

Even when she knew who he was and what he did, she was still prepared to entertain the fact it was a relationship.

It’s hard to know if Smith was part of an organised gang of scammers, but it seems likely.

While South East Asia is responsible for the most romance scams, Nigeria is the second most common place of origin. 

In Nigeria, I’ve heard anecdotally that the scammers term the practice ‘hunting for an old white’, while in South East Asia, they’re known as ‘pig-butchering scams’ because the fraudsters think of it like fattening up an animal before you slaughter it.

Pig-butchering scams are a cross between romance fraud and crypto currency fraud and are often highly technologically advanced.

The best way to protect yourself is to be aware of the scripts and tricks fraudsters use to reel in victims.

Many scammers seem to use a name comprised of two first names — for example, Mark Patrick, John William, Stephen Thomas — perhaps because they aren’t familiar with Western surnames.

Then there is a fairly common list of stories a scammer will hit you with, including:

– He is a widow and lost his wife in a car crash or to cancer.

– His wife cheated and left him.

– He has a child who is currently at boarding school.

– He has a family member who needs an operation.

– He is extremely religious and ‘God-fearing’.

– He is a soldier, medical professional or oil-rig worker.

As soon as you reply, he is likely to ask, ‘Are you married with kids?’ and he will express romantic feelings, even love, extremely quickly.

You’ll be the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen, the sort of woman he could really have a special connection with and so on.

Next he’ll want to get you off the platform he contacted you on and onto a messaging app such as WhatsApp, Viber, Telegram, Skype or Google Chat as soon as possible.

The reason is simple — they can’t be kicked off these in the same way they can a dating site, Twitter or Instagram. Plus, now they have your email address and phone number.

Eventually, inevitably, you will be spun a story and asked for money, probably via gift cards (you’ll be asked to buy them, then scratch off the panel and send the code directly). 

So far I’ve been asked for Amazon gift cards, iTunes vouchers, Google Play vouchers and Steam cards, which are used to buy video games but can be sold on.

But perhaps the best way to protect yourself is to acknowledge that, yes, it could happen to you. I believe that we all underestimate our susceptibility to fraud.

The women I spoke to weren’t all naive or gullible; many were smart and switched on. Don’t let your confidence be your downfall. Life is never a romcom — and if it seems as though someone online is offering you a happily ever after, be suspicious.

How one scammed woman got her £100,000 back 

One January, Francesca had a couple of old friends round for dinner. Now that her children had grown up and left home, they said, she should be looking for a partner.

Francesca loved her life as it was — she had a great job and a lovely home — and didn’t want to force the idea. But as the evening went on and the three of them drank more wine, her friends suggested they make a profile for her on a dating site, saying: ‘What have you got to lose?’

Considering what was to happen later, these may well be some of the most ironic words ever spoken, Francesca told me.

The very next day she was contacted via the dating site by a man calling himself George Cooper. His profile seemed to mirror hers. Everything she liked, he liked. She said she looked at it and thought: ‘Crikey. He’s perfect.’

She responded and they started chatting through the site then, after two or three days, he suggested they move onto Viber, an instant messaging app similar to WhatsApp.

There is a fairly common list of stories a scammer will hit you with (Stock image)

There is a fairly common list of stories a scammer will hit you with (Stock image)

He told her he was from New York and of Italian heritage, with a beautiful home, nice cars and a lovely lifestyle.

He said that his parents lived in New York in a very good care home, which he paid for. He worked for an oil company and was extremely senior on a rig in the Middle East.

Over the next few days, online and on the phone, he started what she called a ‘massive charm offensive’, regularly telling her what a beautiful and intelligent woman she was, and saying he was going to come to the UK for Valentine’s Day. 

Francesca was really excited, but the day before he was due to fly out, she received a message to say something had come up and he was needed on the rig.

Despite her disappointment, everything was still wonderful. George was well educated; they had very interesting discussions, they laughed and he made her feel good. 

She told me: ‘For three months my mind was completely taken over and I’d have done anything for that man. Anything to keep him happy. Anything at all.’

She did think it odd, she told me, that he always had to ring her and she could never ring him, but she put it down to the complexities and demands of life on an oil rig.

One day on the phone, he told her he had a problem — his account had been hacked and thus blocked by the bank. 

He couldn’t get into it and he was worried he’d miss a payment due to his parents’ care home. When she asked what she could do, he started a new story. 

He told her that he had a big trunk of money, in excess of £1 million, which was with a friend of his in Antwerp, Belgium.

Francesca thought this was peculiar, but heard him out.

He said he needed to get the trunk through customs and into the UK, then he could pay the money straight into the bank and sort his parents out. 

Meanwhile, could she lend him something now, and he’d repay it later? He said that once it was all sorted, they could start a life together, which sounded wonderful to Francesca. 

Eventually she agreed and transferred £2,000 to him, via an Antwerp bank account. A day or two later, however, he called and said he needed more money: in order to get the trunk back to the UK, he was going to have to use a diplomat, since a diplomat cannot be stopped at customs.

The best way to protect yourself is to be aware of the scripts and tricks fraudsters use to reel in victims (Stock image)

The best way to protect yourself is to be aware of the scripts and tricks fraudsters use to reel in victims (Stock image)

The chap he had found to help wanted £8,000 to do it.

When Francesca said she didn’t have that much money, he asked her to borrow it. She really felt like she was in a partnership with this man and so she agreed.

Francesca borrowed the money from one of her friends, who specifically asked: ‘It’s not for this man you’ve met, is it?’ Francesca said it wasn’t; she only needed it for a couple of weeks then she’d pay it straight back.

Soon, of course, ‘George’ needed more — this time to pay for a ‘diplomatic tag’ for the trunk. Francesca borrowed £15,000 from another friend and sent it to him.

She knew at this stage that something was very wrong, but was so far into the thing, she felt she couldn’t pull out if there was a chance of recouping her money.

Over the next few months, Francesca lost around three stone in weight through stress. She would come home from work and draw the curtains, turn the lights off and sit shaking in her bedroom.

A third friend, seeing how she was struggling, now offered to lend her a large sum of money, which Francesca gratefully accepted, but after a while the friend started messaging her saying she couldn’t sleep at night because she hadn’t told her husband about the loan. More and more payments went to George.

Now George messaged her to say he’d had a heart attack and was very ill. He was silent for around two weeks and she was beside herself with worry.

The next time he called, he made an extraordinary request: that she fly to Antwerp herself and give £10,000 in cash to a lawyer involved with getting the trunk out of Belgium. 

Which is how this lovely middle-aged Englishwoman found herself carrying a large bag of cash on to an aeroplane and handing it over to a man, the ‘lawyer’, who called himself Damien.

As Francesca was telling me this, she said that even thinking about it ties her stomach in knots.

She was so terrified at the airport, she nearly passed out, but all the time George was on the phone to her, telling her how brilliantly she was doing. 

Back in the UK, Francesca messaged George to say there was no reason at all why the trunk of money couldn’t now be brought over to the UK, but the next day he told her he’d had another heart attack and had been airlifted to a hospital in Dubai.

Francesca then emailed the oil company to ask which hospital her partner was in.

The oil company came back and said there was no George Cooper working on any of their rigs.

At this point everything came crashing down. In all she had given more than £100,000 to ‘George’.

Francesca ended up taking out a second mortgage on her house and withdrawing a significant lump sum from her pension to pay everyone back. Later, she contacted the UK’s Action Fraud and the FBI in the U.S., both of which would do nothing, as they said they were inundated.

And yet there is a happy ending, of sorts. Francesca is the only victim of romance fraud I’ve ever spoken to who got her money back.

After a while thinking she was purely to blame, she began to feel that her bank should bear some responsibility too.

In the 20 years she’d been with them, she had never made large payments to anyone, let alone to foreign accounts. 

The fact that suddenly vast sums of money were going overseas should have been picked up. Though the bank fobbed off her initial complaint, she is a bright, tenacious lady and she took it to a Financial Ombudsman, who upheld it.

As I was writing my book, I heard an update: the bank had reimbursed everything — and even paid her interest. I wish all victims could get this outcome.

Adapted from Keanu Reeves Is Not In Love With You by Becky Holmes (Unbound, £12.99). © Becky Holmes 2024. 

To order a copy for £9.89 (offer valid to 23/01/24; UK P&P free on orders over £25) go to or call 020 3176 2937.

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