Advocating Against Romance Scammers
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Four Corners | ABC News Australia | February 11, 2019 - Could this be your online lover? | Part 1
Meet the scammers breaking hearts and stealing billions online
Watch the Video
These are the foot soldiers in a global scamming enterprise that's breaking hearts and stealing billions of dollars
Four Corners takes you inside the world of online scamming, as reporter Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop meets teenagers running romance scams out of internet cafes in West Africa and tracks global crime rings involved in drug trafficking and money laundering.
Part 1
In a tiny flat in Ghana, in west Africa, an aspiring entrepreneur trawls Facebook for divorced and widowed women on the other side of the world.
The 27-year-old, who calls himself Kweiku, is searching for 'clients' - scammer parlance for victims who can be conned online into sending money.
For Kweiku, romance scams are a transaction, not a crime.
"A client is somebody, a business partner who brings you money, that's why you use the word client," he told Four Corners.
"Some are divorced and some - their husbands are now dead."
Kweiku sells perfume on the streets of Ghana's capital, Accra, to maintain a meagre income between Western Union transfers from a woman he seduces online.
Part 2
He poses as a US soldier called 'Johnny', an online persona built on stolen photos, fake ID and stock scripts with storylines about urgent emergencies that can be solved with cash.
"Sometimes I'm in Palestine, sometimes I'm in Iraq and we are helping keep peace in that country because there's a war going on," he said.
"That's my main occupation - online. I want somebody to be my lover, my fiance."
Kweiku's current target is a Mexican widow in the US. He considers her a prize client.
"She can't really hear that I don't have an American accent because she's not really a white person," he said.
"She doesn't have the education and she's not fluent in English, so I was lucky enough to meet somebody who wasn't.
"I proposed to her, and we were getting along but I wanted some capital, so I asked her for money. In all, I think she sent me about $2,000."
While the Four Corners team is filming, Kweiku returns a missed video call from the woman and blocks his webcam with his finger so she can't see him.
"I'm trying to video chat with you so you can see me but the camera is not working properly," he tells her in a faltering American accent.
Part 3
Kweiku makes a video call to the woman he is attempting to scam - ABC News
The conversation switches gears between declarations of love, sex talk and insistent requests for gifts and money.
"I really want to come around this Christmas and see you," he says.
"What about the plane ticket?" the woman asks.
"My friend booked the flight ticket and I'm not hearing from my friend anymore. It's really hard times here baby," he tells her.
As the talk turns intimate, Kweiku shuts the call down.
"She was in bed now, wanting to have sex, and she was trying to get naked and all that," he said.
"She wanted to see me. Sometimes I feel like, wow, this lady, she's really in some misery or pain because she really wants to see me and she can't see me."
"She's falling in love with the voice because it's the same voice that I proposed to her, it's the same voice that I tell her she's beautiful and it's the same voice when I'm making love to her."
Kweiku's friend 'Skidoo' introduced him to the scamming business. He believes he knows the way to a woman's heart and her bank account.
"Women like men who are caring," Skidoo said.
"If you're not giving them money, you always call them: 'How you doing? I wanted to check on you. Have you eaten all the stuffs?' Like pampering that way.
"She's online looking for a partner. Maybe it's been long since she met someone like that, it's been a long time since someone pampered her. It's been long since someone told her sweet things, you understand."
Part 4
In a packed internet cafe in a commercial town west of Accra, we find teenage boys and young men in front of every screen, logged in on dating sites under names like Jessica, Mary and Jennifer.
The teenagers, known in Ghana as 'cafe boys' or 'browsers', are searching for middle-aged and elderly men in the US, Australia and Canada, and luring them to chat on Google Hangouts.
Mohamed, 19, is exchanging messages online with a grey-haired man in Australia.
"We just come here, we just get some money from the white mans to get some food to eat," he said.
"Some of them can give you $US2,000, maybe you tell him you want $US5,000 or 5,000 pounds or $5,000 Australian."
"Wanna play now? I'm horny," the Australian man writes to him. "Wife is late home tonight, I will be here waiting for you."
"He wants to play video cam with me to do fun, sex stuff and other things," Mohamed tells Four Corners.
"He shows me himself naked, full naked. And I will make sure to make him happy, like he will fall in love with me."
Mohamed tells Four Corners he has been doing this since he was 16 to make a living, or sometimes just to earn credit for his phone.
"Hi babe, just got home and have topped you up with 90 cedis ($24)," the Australian writes. "That should cover for us to play again as well. cant wait for you to come on line."
Each time they "play", Mohamed tells his targets his webcam is broken and instead sends videos of the woman he claims to be.
The Australian man has been sending webcam equipment to Ghana so he can finally see and hear her live.
"Did you get the mic I sent?" the Australian writes. "No more playing me a video... I thought we were in the beginning of something long term."
It's time for Mohamed to find a new client.
Ghana has more phones than people. With high youth unemployment and cheap internet, online fraud is booming.
"It's widespread," says Ghana Police cybercrime unit director Dr Herbert Gustav Yankson. "It's lucrative, low-risk and it's increasing every day."
Entrepreneurs are capitalising on the scam industry.
Credits
Reporter: Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop
Producer: Lesley Robinson
Digital Producer: Brigid Andersen
Digital Design: Georgina Piper
Comments - 4
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Wed Feb 20 05:00pm
Rick
It's funny the law in Nigeria and Ghana claim they are doing something about their scammers yet those scammers in the video don't seem to have any problem showing their faces and bragging about what they do?
Tue Feb 19 01:40pm
muchasgrasas
Exactly what happened to my ex-friend’s mom. She borrowed money from us saying her mom’s American soldier online boyfriend would send her money. But then that boyfriend told her mom that he wouldnt be able to send money unless she sends him first via Western Union. That it is just the way it works in the country to where he was deployed.
Mon Feb 18 08:32am
BlackandWhite
At 19:40 he really tries to justify scamming people by saying white people owe them....while there in the middle of scamming a older woman born and raised in Mexico who moved to the USA....
Sun Feb 17 11:18am
kem kam
FACEBOOK SHOULD HAVE AN IMPROVED SECURITY GRID FROM SUCH DEALINGS AND AN IDENTITY THEFT-PROOF SYSTEM.