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(by Elena Garrett, July 2011)




A brief summary.

Basically, it is a scam where a lonely foreign man gets acquainted over the Internet with an attractive supposedly single female from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, etc. 

Quickly, the " female" (the bait) falls in love with her Internet acquaintance, and shortly after " she" begins to plan her travel to see her Mr. Right in person. Money issues arise, and, reluctantly, the bait asks the gentleman to help "her" with money for her visa and tickets. Very often, the bait tells the guy that she has a work offer in his country, and she would be able to pay off the loaned money to him quickly.

If the guy agrees, the "lady" pretends to put all effort into making "her" travel arrangements. But the meeting continues to be delayed. " She" acts surprised to find out that there are various expensive requirements that " she" has to comply with before she can fly out of the country. Those supposed requirements usually include proof of financial independence and requirement to pay off all loans that "she" has in her name. And so " she" will reluctantly ask for financial help again. 

If the guy is determined to make her supposed trip happen regardless of the expenses, he sends the money again and again. In the money keep coming, the "lady" will continue to experience difficulties. "She" will get robbed or attacked, may become injured or sick, may suddenly get arrested, or her apartment may get flooded or burned.

The scam will go on for as long as the guy is willing to continue sending money to help his "Russian princess" to get through her never-ending travel misadventure. The bait will keep the "flames of his love" alive by periodically chatting with him on the phone or sending him descriptions of "her" erotic fantasies. 

In the end, he will be left financially exhausted, and " she" will continue to pretend like she is just one Western Union  money transfer away for finally being able to meet her beloved.

The same scam works with single Western gay man. An adorable and lonely gay guy from Russia will be the main character of the same travel story, with very minor changes.


Most scammers ask money for one or more of the following:

- passport, visa, tickets

- travel insurance

- fines for failing to officially register their stay in Moscow

- financial solvency money ("pocket money," "travel money," "money to show to the customs," "money to show to the Embassy")

- money to pay off a loan or a mortgage

- sale taxes on the her apartment

- emergency medical expenses for the girl or her relatives (illness, car accident, death in the family)

- bail money / to pay fines for minor "accidental" violations of the law

- taxes supposedly owed on the previous money transfers

- money to replace stolen funds

- ransom money / financial debt to mafia

- presents for herself and her family at holiday times

- luxury items (cell phones, clothes, etc)


What the victim of the scam never realizes, however, is that behind all the seductive pictures and behind all the warm and passionate letters hides a cynical, manipulative, and sleek mastermind of the crime - a cyber thief of hearts and wallets. And this mastermind is not at all who you think (s)he is... 


Let's look at the scam scenario in more detail.





Phase #1. Finding the victims

A scammer usually finds a set of pictures of an attractive girl 18-45 years old female (or, if the scammer IS  an attractive girl, she uses her own pictures) and places personal ads in as many international dating catalogs as possible. 

A lot of scammers actively seek out new potential victims rather than wait for the victims to come to them. Often, scammers use big online dating web sites to approach their potential victims. When that happens, their profiles on sites like Yahoo and indicate that they are from the USA, Canada, or Europe (that is because those sites no longer accept subscribers from Russia). 

Many victims report that they received the first email from the scammer "out of the blue," and that they never belonged to any dating sites. Sometimes scammers even use CraigsList, Facebook, Myspace, or other popular web site to find potential victims


WARNING! If a lady from Russia contacts you first on a large dating site, or if she sends you an email out of nowhere, then your email address is probably being spammed by a Russian dating scammer.


Phase 2: "Grooming" the victims

After a while the letters from single men from all over the world start arriving in the scammer's mailbox. The scammer replies positively to all of them and the process begins.

Since a lot of letters need to be answered, the scammer usually does not have the ability to answer all of them individually. Therefore a standard set of romantic letters exists, and the scammer typically uses these pre-written letters to correspond with all potential victims. As a results of using the sets of pre-written letters, scammers tend to ignore questions posted to them, or when they do answer questions, they answer them only at the very beginning or at the very end of each letter.

Conveyer belt strategy versus personalized approach strategy

In his/her letters, the scammer is usually very flattering, romantic and seductive. The scammer explains to each potential victim that he/she feels "something special" about him. Almost all scammers tell their victims that "this the the first time she uses the internet to get aquatinted with a man". 

To speed up the process, the scammer "falls in love" with each of the potential victims literally within two to six weeks. Sometimes at the same time many scammers would announce that their yearly vacation time (usually 2 weeks) is coming up. However, the duration of the "set up" phase varies significantly. Some scammers fall in love and ask for money within 10 days, while others may correspond for 6-8 months before requesting any money. The duration of the phase depends on the scammer's own work style. The longer the set up phase, the higher is the scammer's probability of success in obtaining the money.


A common theme during the "set up" letters are:

  • the scammer talks about her experience with Russian men, and how they betrayed her in one way or another

  • the scammer emphasizes that Russian men are bad beyond redemption: they drink, they beat their women, they are thinking only about sex. The scammer emphasizes that she suffered greatly from those behaviors

  • the scammer does not have a computer; she writes from an Internet cafe or from her work place (or her friend's house)

  • the scammer does not have a phone, but can call you from a "pay phone"

  • the scammer usually pretends to be a very traditional and family-oriented girl looking for a traditional, family-oriented guy

  • the scammer tell the victim a lot about her mundane daily activities, her pets, and her friends, and includes pictures of her supposed friends, family members, pets, apartment, and from her supposed workplace 

  • the scammer talks about unconditional trust that the two people must have in each other for the real love to happen

  • the scammer often talks about going to church or praying for the relationship to work out

  • the scammer talks about her girlfriend who married a guy from another country and how happy they are together

  • the scammer starts to call the guy "my love", "my prince", "my sunshine", "my best friend", "my future husband", etc

  • the scammers starts to sign her letters "your princess", "your love", "your future wife", etc. Lots of kisses and hugs are given at the end of each letter.

  • the letters become intensely long, flowery and romantic

  • some romantic poems may be inserted in the letters (see example)

  • the scammer tells the victim that she is daydreaming a lot, and her friends tease her about it

  • the scammer "discussed" her new "love" with her mother, or father, or grandparent, or best friend, and receives their blessing and approval (see example)

  • the scammer tell the victim that she is experiencing sexual dreams about him (see example)

  • her pictures may become very seductive (see example of "set up" letters with pictures: example#1, example#2, example#3, example#4)

  • the scammer tells the victim that she can't sleep at night because she thinks so much about him and their meeting

  • she tells the victim that her desire to see the object of her "love" is so strong, that it is overwhelming to her

  • the scammer will tell the victim about her dreams of their first meeting (usually in the airport, when SHE arrives to the guy)


Phase 3: Asking for money

Once the fact that the scammer is "deeply in love" is well established, the scammer begins the real preparation. "She" becomes extremely eager to meet in person, so she decides to find out what her options are as far as visas and travel fare. 

The scammer will announce the good news (that she found out how to obtain the visa) in one of the letters shortly after explaining her undying love. She will tell that she has found out everything she needs to do to receive a tourist (work, student) visa. She will be all bubbly and excited about the opportunity. She will explain in detail how much it will cost to get the visa and the tickets, and how to send the necessary amount to get things going. 

At first, many scammers start with a small amount - $350-$500 for the visa or, possibly, passport. Some scammers also ask for "hotel" money for their hotel "accommodations" in Moscow while they are filing for their visa with the US Embassy. Some scammers offer to pay for visa themselves (as a "good faith" gesture).

After the "visa" is received, the scammer asks for money to buy plane tickets - usually around $700-$1800. Some scammers initially offer to pay for the tickets themselves. But then they discover that the tickets supposedly cost more than the scammer can afford, and so they ask the victim to "split" the costs of the tickets. Many scammers at this point claim that they went ahead and entered  into a contract with a travel agency. This travel agency will supposedly handle all legal paperwork and the tickets, and now the scammer HAS to come up with the necessary amount for the tickets by a certain date - other wise the travel agency will "put her in prison" (this is called "a guilt trap"). 

Some common themes that we see during this stage of the correspondence

  • most scammers claim that they will be applying for a tourist visa, but other scammers specialize on pretending to be eligible for a student visa or a work visa 

  • most often, the scammer suggest going through a travel agency that can arrange everything because they "have good contacts in the Embassy". If the victim offers to buy tickets for her online, the scammer will insist on using the agency anyway

  • most of the time, the only contact provided for the "travel agency" is their email address

  • the scammer usually claims that the travel agency cannot accept a credit card payment. They request cash only as their payment method, forcing the victim to use Western Union or MoneyGram transfers

  • some scammers write that they already have a work visa to the victim's country, but lack the money for tickets

  • some scammer can provide the victim with a phone number of some person located in the victim's own country who could confirm the girl's identity or visa eligibility

  • At this point, some victims receive an email from the girl's "travel agent". The email will detail the costs and the payment instructions. Usually the indication is that the visa is guaranteed. Some of those so-called "travel agencies" even have legit-looking web sites. Of course, the "agencies" are just fake web sites that will become inactive once the scam is complete. See example

  • Most scammers pretend that they do not know much about Western Union or MoneyGram transfers. They write that they "just found out" about those wonderful service providers and they give very detailed instructions on how to make a transfer to them

  • Very often, the "Western Union instructions" letter will be the first time the scammer will actually provide the victim with the girl's last name

  • If the victim is doubtful or expresses concerns about possibility of a scam, a female with a Russian accent will call the victim on a phone to express her love and insist on getting the money as soon as possible

  • Very often the money request letters are supplemented with the seductive pictures (see example of such letters with pictures: example#1, example#2, example#3, example#4), detailed descriptions of erotic dreams, or questions about the guy's sexual preferences or experiences.

  • The scammer may send the victim some documents to prove that they are "real." For example, they can send a copy of their "passport." Those documents are not real documents - they are digital images altered in PhotoShop

How can you find out if the passport your lady sent to you is a fake?

FYI: American tourist visa CANNOT be obtained through a travel agency in 99.99% of the cases. Also, a single young girl from ex-Soviet Union probably will not be able to obtain a US tourist visa under usual circumstances, because she is too much of a risk category for violating conditions of her visa and staying in the USA after her visa has expired. UK and Australian tourist visas are not easy to obtain either for the same reasons. Please contact your Embassy with questions about visa requirements.

"MONEY LAUNDERING TWIST": If the victim does not have the money, or is too hesitant to send the money to the scammer, the scammer may tell the victim that she (or her brother / friend / co-worker) has some business in the USA and has some personal checks that need to be cashed. The scammer suggests to the victim that she would mail the checks to him, he would cash it for her and send the money back to her via Western Union. If the victim complies, the checks will bounce, but the scammer will be long-gone with the money from western Union transfer. See example

"CREDIT CARD BALANCE TRANSFER TWIST": Alternatively, the scammer may suggest that you give her your credit card information, and she will arrange money to be transferred to your credit card. DO NOT give her any credit card or bank account information!!!

If the victim is still hesitant to send money, the scammers will utilize every possible emotional button that they can press. They will appeal to his guilt, his emotions, his pride, his supposed gender role, etc. After investing much time and effort into the correspondence, the scammers do not like to see their efforts fail. Even after being told "so" several times, they can linger for many weeks, writing brief letters full of "love" and hope.""

If the victim takes the bait and sends the requested amount, the scammer will most likely send them a travel itinerary with flight dates and numbers. If the victim attempts to call an airline to confirm the reservations, he will probably find out that the reservations have indeed been made. The trick is in the refundable nature of the tickets. The scammers order refundable air tickets, allow the victim to confirm the flight information, and then cancel the tickets at the last moment and receive a full refund.

Some scammers will also send a scanned picture of their "visa" or "tickets".  Those documents, just like the scammer's supposed passport, are just computer-altered images. 


At this phase of the scam, a lot of victims receive numerous phone calls from the scammers. Usually the scammer makes the calls. The victim either does not have a phone number to call, or the phone number is constantly turned off.

FYI: the best way to check whether the visa is valid is to contact the Embassy that supposedly issued that visa.



Phase 4: Milking the victim for money for as long as possible

Once the tickets and the visa are bought, the scammer will wait for a few days. During that time "she" will tell the victim more and more about her supposed love, her obsession with their first meeting and her plans to marry him. 

But after a few days of joy and excitement the scammer will bring some "bad news". She will find out that she would need a pocket money (so-called "financial solvency requirements") to be able to enter the country! $1500, $2500 or even more is required to show at the airport (or at her interview at the Embassy) as a "proof" that the girl has "enough money to travel or to return home". Of course, the scammer "did not count" on this expense, so the joyful mood is quickly changes to one of desperation and sadness. The scammer turns, once again, to the guy for financial help, promising him that the "pocket money" money will only be needed to go through the airport, and once they meet, she would return that money to him right away. The victim, who already paid once, is likely to agree to help with the solvency money as well.


If the "tickets" and the "solvency money" are sent by the victim, the scammer will most likely to try to continue "milking" the victim for additional amounts. For example, she can present the following claims to her financial knight on the white horse:  

  • she was prevented from traveling to her foreign Prince because it turns out that she has an unpaid bank loan (usually mortgage) and that some new Russian law apparently require her to pay off all debts before she can leave the country

  • the scammers usually convince the victim that once the bank loan on the apartment is paid off, she will be able to sell the apartment for a very big profit due to real estate boom in her area. The scammers use the idea of the profit from the sale of the apartment to keep the victim hoping that the girl will be able to repay the him the money he sent for the mortgage once she arrives in his country

  • she needs to pay taxes on the sale of her apartment

  • she needs to pay a commission to the real estate agent who is helping her to finalize the paperwork for the sale of her apartment

  • she needs to pay taxes on the money transfers that she already received

  • she got stopped in the airport for trying to leave the country with an illegal art item (and icon, or a golden ring, or a painting she wanted to give her beloved guy as a present), and now she is being held on jail and she needs money to get a lawyer or to pay bail

  • the money got stolen from her purse at work, in some public transportation, or on her way out from Western Union office

  • she got hit by a car (probably on the way to the airport)

  • she got robbed (probably on the way to the airport)

  • she got robbed and severely beaten by some unknown assailants (on the way to the airport)

    • If she was robbed, all the girl's documents including the visa and the tickets and the insurance money will be gone without a trace. The scammer will come back empty-handed to the victim, crying and beating herself up for being "stupid and careless", but will right away ask for his forgiveness and more money to start the visa/tickets process all over again.  

    • If the girl got hit by a car or beaten up by the bad street people, the girl's " relative," "friend," or even her "doctor" will write to the victim explaining "the tragedy" that happened, the extent of the girl's injuries, and the costs of the treatment. The victim may even send some money for hospital bills. 

  • her dear mommy had a heart attack or needs a kidney transplant, so the money was used for the hospital immediately, etc

  • her mommy passed away and she had to use the money for a funeral

  • her visa or tickets expired (due to previously described problems and delays), so she needs to purchase them all over again

  • she needs money for a bribe to give to some government officials

  • she needs to pay a pre-employment tax

  • she needs money for a prolonged stay in Moscow while waiting for her travel documents to be ready

  • she accidentally wrecked someone's expensive car and has to pay for repairs

  • the trusted friend or the travel agent to whom the money was sent turned out to be a thief and disappeared with the money

Once the scammers realize that they sank their hook into some "rich idiot" who is able and willing to provide a stable supply of cash, they will go into great links to keep him from doubting their stories. They will provide him with any kind of "documents" that he requests: scanned copies of travel agency agreements, tax receipts, bank loan statements, hospital bills, statement of Customs declarations, pictures from hospitals and funerals, certificates of sale for the apartment, etc. Since the victim does not know how a real Russian documents look like, he is not likely to be able to detect the flaws in those "documents."

One the effective tools that the scammers often utilize to keep the victim from questioning the girl's story are the "personalized photos." In those photos, the "bait" can be seen holding something that is personal and specific to a particular victim. Such an item can be a sign with his name on it, his picture, or his email.

Fake travel agency agreement Fake "I Owe You" document Fake bank account statement
Fake birth certificate Fake medical exam document Fake Sheremetievo airport customs document




Phase 5: The disappearing act

The money requests can go on for many months, sometimes even 2-3 years.  Some scammers seem to be bend on getting every possible cent from the victim's savings account, while others just quietly disappear after getting their visa/tickets money. 

Since some people actually DO send money for all the travel misfortunes that the scammers describe to them, the scammer will go on with her terrible accidents for as long as the victim does not loose his patience or empties his bank account (whichever comes first), and then of course she will disappear.

Some scammers will start getting out of the relationship little by little. They will start to write only once a week, then once every two weeks, and even less (claiming that their work, or their illness, or caring for a sick relative is keeping them too busy to write). Others disappear very abruptly. The scammers usually get away with anywhere from $500 to $30,000 in pure profit from the scam.




the most accurate way to detect a scam is to verify the facts your penpal is presenting

But in case you do not want to spend any money, here are a few common red flags to watch.



Am I being scammed if: 


She tells me she can come on a tourist visa to see me

Probably yes. Most likely you are being set up for the "visa and tickets scam". But check with your Embassy to see how easy would it be for her to get a tourist visa to your country.


She tells me she can come on a student visa

Unlikely but possible. Do not send her money just yet. Ask her to provide more details on the University that she is going to come to study at, and then contact that University. I am sure that if they have some kind of student exchange program in place, they will be happy to tell you about it. Also, you can contact the Embassy that issued that visa to confirm that the visa is valid.



She tells me she can come on a fiancée visa and that she can obtain that visa

She cannot file for a fiancée visa if the two of you have never met before. One of the requirements for the fiancée visa is a personal meeting within the last two years. And YOU will have to file lots of paperwork before she can even fill out her application.


She tells me she can come on a business or work visa

Unlikely but possible. Do not send her money without verification of the validity of her visa. Ask her to send you a scanned picture of her visa and then contact the Embassy that issued that visa to confirm that the visa is valid.

Some ladies offer to come on a work visa and then to get a fiancée visa later. You will still be asked to pay for travel expenses (see example).


She still has ads running on many dating sites even after she states that she likes me and wants to marry me?

Well, if she placed a half of dozen of those ads in different catalogs before, she may not remember to remove them later. Also, the agencies may keep selling her address for their own profits. You may try to "reply" to her existing listings under different names/e-mail address, and see what happens.


She tells me that her Internet costs a lot, and she has very little money to pay for it.

This may be the complete truth - Internet-cafes DO cost a lot, and the average salary in Russia is $100 - $200 per month. Even given that an hour in the Internet cafe costs only $1 (more often more than that), it is a big expense for her.

But if this is one of the FIRST things she mentions in her very first letters, then it is a scam-alert. Usually honest girls will wait until some degree of relationship has started to develop to get brave enough to mention that some support is needed.


She never uses my name. She gives me a lot of sweet and nice names but never calls me by name.

We would say it is a usual scam indication. But if the letters are very personal and have all your questions answered in detail and do not have any other scam-symptoms, then it might just be that person's manner of speaking.

If there ARE other scam-symptoms in the letters, then you may wish to be careful with that person. 


She said her friend works in a travel agency. 

Of course there IS a possibility that one of the girl's friends really works in a travel agency, but we would suggest you keep your eyes open for other scam-alert signals. If you would like to know for sure - ask the girl for the name of the agency her friend works for, and see what the girl says. If she gives you the name of the agency her friend is supposed to work for, then we can check that agency for you easily.


She said her mom is very ill and they are paying a lot for the treatment. 

Well, it is the second most often used reason for scammers to ask for money, but we would not rush to place her on our black list just because of that. In her particular situation this may be the complete truth. Many people's parents (especially if they are pretty old already) do get very ill and do need an expensive treatments and drugs. We suggest you go though all black lists you can find and make sure that your friend is not on one of them already. If you didn't find her on any black list, but still would like to find out for sure how her mom is doing, we could check it for you. And if her mom is really as ill as she says, then we would suggest you help your Russian friend if you like her a lot, and if you are in stable financial condition yourself. That will probably mean a lot to her. If the story with mommy's illness turns out to be a lie, then you will know exactly with whom you are dealing. 


She has already fallen in love with me but we have hardly been writing each other for a month. 

Unless you recently won Mr. Universe and lots of girls everywhere are crazy about you - it IS probably a scam. Check all black lists and send us copies of her letters, if you wish. We can compare her letters to a few hundreds of other scammers letters and see if we find your Russian admirer in our database.


Her feelings for me are very strong. I am many years older than her and in my country I am not considered to be very attractive for a girl of her age.  

50/50 scammer possibility. Many girls in Russia do prefer dating older men (I was one of them. The age difference between my husband and myself is 29 years, and I am completely happy in my marriage), and 10-20 years difference is very common. But be aware that many scammers commonly prey on older western men, since they are considered to be a pretty easy target. 

What you can do to try to make sure she is not a scammer: 1) Check all black lists to see if the girl's pictures are already there. 2) If you didn't find anything that way, try to write to her under a different name and use a different age, mention that you are making a good living, and ready to support your new Russian friend. See what she will do. 


She didn't mentioned ill mom or money for visa yet, but she is telling me about her poor financial situation in every letter.

She may be a scammer or may be a girl in a very poor financial situation, who desperately tries to get your help.

To see what kind of person it is you may just mention that you are in a bad financial situation yourself and would love to help her with money but cannot at the moment. If she is as attracted to your personality, as she says, then she will understand (and in that case I would suggest you do help her at least with the money for her Internet costs). If she is there just for the money, her letters will become less and less loving, and she will probably drop the correspondence.


In many of her letters she tells me the same things over and over again, in exactly the same words.

Yes, big possibility of a "copy and paste" scammer. They use prewritten letters and take pieces of them as they need. Check all black lists very carefully, and consider writing the girl using a different name. See if her letters will change.


She said she doesn't have a phone so I cannot call her.

Maybe a complete truth. Even in major cities lots of people in FSU do not have a phone in the house. But we can check if she DOES have a phone. If she does you may ask yourself why would she lie about that. 


She sent me only one picture of herself and says she does not have any more to send to me. 

May be a scammer using someone's picture. If you would like to get more of her pictures, order a surprise flower delivery for her. Ask the delivery agency to make a picture of the addressee upon delivery. If the girl will refuse to let them make a photo, something is definitely wrong.


Frequently Asked Questions about Russian scams:

Classification of Dating Scammers

Green Card Hunters

More Information on How the Scammers Operate (posted on Datin'n'More)

Use Google to Become Your Own Detective!

I believe I found a scammer! How can we stop her?

I have lost money. What do I do now?

Filing a criminal complaint

How do I find a real Russian lady? Can you recommend a good agency?