Advocating Against Romance Scammers
Four Corners | ABC News Australia | February 11, 2019 - Could this be your online lover? | Part 2
Bryan Denny is the face of military romance scams, and he wants it to stop
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With his good looks and military pedigree, retired US Colonel Bryan Denny is considered a catch.
Each week he's contacted by new women from around the world who have fallen in love with him and, in some cases, emptied their bank accounts for him.
"They are trying to confirm or deny that I'm a guy that they've had a relationship with and have sent money to. They've committed everything, all their financial resources, and now to find out that it's not true, it was all fake," he told Four Corners.
"They've been duped emotionally and they're out large sums of money. It's traumatic."
The real Bryan Denny is a happily married family man in the US state of Virginia who has unwittingly become the poster boy for military romance scams.
Part 5
Bryan Denny's image has been used thousands of times in online scams
His image has been stolen and used thousands of times in fake Facebook, Instagram and online dating profiles.
"This is being done at kind of an industrial scale and how do you stop it? What do you do about it?" he said.
"Military personnel are highly regarded. We're seen as trustworthy, dependable.
"Over the course of the last two years, I've reported over 3,000 accounts to Facebook of scammers using my pictures to steal money from women.
"It's been tough for my family to have to deal with to a degree, because they reach out to my wife, reach out to my son."
Part 6
Chyrel Muzic, from Rockhampton in Queensland, was seduced by a scammer using Bryan Denny's images, and over two years she sent him $40,000.
"It was all borrowed. I borrowed it out of my bank card. I made a personal loan, and then when that ran out I started getting them off cash converters," she said.
"I only found out about three weeks ago who he is - 29-year-old Nigerian."
Four Corners captured Colonel Denny and Ms Muzic meeting for the first time over Skype as they both came to terms with the ordeal of being used.
"Quite frankly I wanted to meet and say that I'm sorry that this happened to you and you were taken advantage of," Colonel Denny said.
Ms Muzic said she was still struggling to grasp that the man she was in love with was a fake.
"I was totally in love with him. Totally besotted. I'd never loved anyone like I'd loved him. I thought all my dreams had come true," she said.
Part 7
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Facebook urged to shut down scammers
Colonel Denny is now committed to exposing the scammers.
As part of online group Advocate Against Romance Scams, he has been lobbying Facebook to move faster to shut scammers' pages down.
Colonel Denny is also pushing the US Senate to force Facebook to police the scammers.
"I'm angry, to say the least. It's hugely frustrating knowing that you're talking to a company like Facebook and you're working to [make them] enforce their own community standards," he said.
He has trawled through public groups on Facebook where scammers trade skills, fake identities, and even day-to-day scripts to run their scams.
Scammers also advertise photo-doctoring skills for fabricating IDs, and even medical emergencies.
In secret groups on Facebook's instant messaging service, WhatsApp, fraudsters trade bank accounts for laundering stolen money.
Even when the Facebook groups are shut down by the social media giant, scammers establish new ones which quickly accumulate members.
"They offer Facebook profiles for sale, they offer pictures of uniformed servicemen for sale, they offer the backstory and kind of how you get started. So it's all right there. It's in plain sight, it's not hidden," Colonel Denny said.
Part 8
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
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