A self-confessed reformed scammer has given a new insight into a shady industry that preys on vulnerable women.
Chris*, originally from Nigeria, was a professional romance scammer for five years.
When he first became involved in scamming, he described the con as “thrilling”.
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“It was kind of fun … you know, it was a lot of money to be getting” he told 7NEWS.com.au.
“I was in my second year of school and I needed a way to look after myself, so I had to improvise.”
He says it is not uncommon for young Nigerian men to be “trapped” in the scheme.
“We have quite a bad government here, so I think that’s one of the reasons people scam,” he said.
An inside look
A “manual” is distributed to scammers and used as a playbook to con victims, predominantly women.
The 39-page document, dubbed the “scammer bible”, seen by 7NEWS.com.au, details pick-up lines, tactics to keep conversations flowing and, finally, how to ask for money.
“It’s a format that’s designed to help you through a step-by-step method to follow up with victims,” Chris said.
“This is not just any ordinary format, it has already been used over and over again and it’s really effective if it is being used accurately.”
The guide, Chris explained, is designed to target divorced woman aged in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
If used correctly, Chris says the manual will provide the scammer with the right words to say to women to gain their trust and, therefore, make them more likely to hand over their cash.
“Spend days talking about random things, learn a lot about her,” the guide instructs.
“The more you know about her, the better it will be for you.
“It can be time-consuming but it’s totally worth it.”
According to the guide, scammers are told to avoid asking directly for money and should instead make up a story to enact sympathy as to why they need money.
One example in the guide is to tell a woman you’ve had a bad day, then “tell her you are broke, you are behind on your mortgage and they will kick you out next week and you have exhausted every means to get money”.
“You can tell her your phone is bad and you won’t be able to chat anymore,” it instructs scammers.
“If she’s in love with you, she will not want you to go and she by herself will beg to buy you another one.”
Chris says these tactics have worked considerably well for him in the past.
‘We both just cried’
However, in 2021, things changed when Chris came to a heart-breaking realisation.
At the time, Chris thought he had hit the jackpot when he scammed one woman out of $US35,000.
“But she started becoming depressed because of me, and she was in severe debt, and couldn’t even feed herself because of me,” he said.
“I made her so miserable and it was too much for my guilty conscience.
“I just thought, I wouldn’t want that to happen to my mum.”
Chris made the incredible decision to video call the woman, show his face, apologise and ultimately give the money back.
“When we were on the call we both just started crying,” he said.
“I was so surprised because I thought she would block me, but instead she helped me,” he said.
Now, Chris works for an online company which provides reverse search technology to potential victims, known as Social Catfish.
“I help them identify who the scammers are,” he said.
“They will call me up and ask ‘Hey, can you check if this guy is real or not?’.”
Chris warned anyone who is really interested in meeting or being with you will not hesitate to show their face.
“Try to talk to them and see their face to find out if they’re real,” he said.
“If you ask to video call and they don’t want to, that is a red flag.
“And if someone’s not going to prove to you that they are real and make you comfortable then is it really worth it?
“You really just want to find solid proof that the person is who they say they are, you can ask for their address or anything really.”
A real threat
In 2021 alone, more than 3400 dating and romance scams were reported to the ACCC.
It said scammers often use “love bombing” techniques, such as professing love and affection very quickly to try to influence victims.
AFP Cybercrime Operations commander Chris Goldsmid said criminals will invest a significant amount of time – sometimes years – building what seems to be a “legitimate relationship with their victim”.
“They will express their love for the victim and, in some cases, promise marriage but will often have a complicated story about why they cannot meet in person,” he said.
“Anyone can be a target and they will use a range of extravagant excuses to pull on their victim’s heartstrings.
“Romance scams are a common method for criminals to enlist money mules because they put pressure on them emotionally.”
People who believe they have been lured into being a money mule should report it to Report Cyber and notify their banks immediately.
* Not his real name
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