Would you be easily fooled by an online dating scam?

By Drum Digital
08 June 2015

“He is a charmer in writing. Unfortunately for him, I don’t like charmers.”

Jenna Etheridge, News24

Cape Town -

These were the words of a 44-year-old Grabouw woman who was recently targeted by a person she believed to be a social media scammer, sweetening her up to swipe her cash.

She became suspicious, and with the help of her 18-year-old son, found out online that a person with the same name had defrauded a woman in Gauteng of a large sum of money last year, using the same modus operandi.

The divorced mother of three told News24 that she accepted his friend request on Facebook because she thought he was a friend of a relative.

“Then he sent me the most pathetic messages of how wonderful and beautiful I am. I mean, I am an overweight woman with three kids and I don’t even have any photos of myself online!”

Faking it

She showed News24 an e-mail he sent, in which he purported to be half South African and working at a refinery in the United States. He claimed he would be visiting SA for a year, was looking for friends, and wanted to know more about her. The message was riddled with bad grammar. The photos he sent painted a picture of a single dad with fancy cars, a decent house and a penchant for bikes and boat trips.

One of the SMSes read like a poor pick-up line:

This was despite her never acceding to his requests for a photo.

Hoping to stop him from tricking others, she went to the Grabouw police station but was told they couldn’t do anything. She could not open a case because no crime had been committed. She also phoned the police station in the area where the other woman was scammed, but either struggled to get through or was sent from pillar to post.

Targeting professionals

Glenda Paul, a director at IRS Forensic Investigations, told News24 that scam artists or syndicates targeted vulnerable women whose profiles indicated they had access to money or well-paying employment. Her clients were professional women in well-paying positions.

She said people often asked for their assistance because police officers at station level had a poor understanding of what cyber-crime and online dating were.

“We’ve had clients phone us, who say they have gone to the police and the police turn around and say it’s a civil matter because they are in a relationship.”

While the company could assist by convincing police to open a docket, taking the victim’s statement, and adding its own statement, it had limited investigating powers.

It had noticed an increase in these types of cases in the last two years, at a time when access to internet was increasing and South Africans were becoming increasingly internet savvy.

Looking for love

The Grabouw woman told News24 she had no idea why an individual or syndicate would have targeted her, but guessed they may have assumed she had a lucrative business because she was self-employed, or that she was looking for love because of her relationship status.

"If you look at my timeline, it doesn't show I am sad. It's mostly schooling stuff, bible verses or arts stuff," she said with a laugh.

The Bellville Specialised Commercial Crime Court was currently hearing three separate online dating matters, involving victims from around the globe. Two of the cases involved groups of six and eight accused respectively. A central theme was that syndicates allegedly created fake profiles on dating sites to build trust, before requesting money from victims for ostensible emergencies.

National police spokesperson Vishnu Naidoo forwarded News24’s questions on cyber-crime to the Hawks. Acting Hawks spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi did not respond to the questions by time of publication.

News24

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