(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.
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 Match.com 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.
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
Actually, there are two categories of Russian dating scammers: a “serial scammer” and an "personalized approach" scammer. The "serial" type is a lot more common to see, not because there are more of them working, but because they approach so many different victims in a short amount of time, so it looks like there are a lot of them. The "serial" scammers are the ones who rarely pay attention to the conversation and tend to ignore questions and send a chain of pre-written emails to hundreds of intended victims. They are hoping that a small percentage of their victims (maybe 5-10%) will be fooled anyway.
The "personalized approach" scammers are more rare to come by – but not necessarily because there are less of them, but because their work is much less visible. Those scammers have a much higher “quality” of work, more attention to detail, they answer all questions and they pay close attention to the conversation. As a result, they have a much better “response rate” from their intended victims. But the story and the tricks are all the same as in the usual serial scams. They are still asking for money for travel expenses.
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".
Recently we have seen several scammer using a set-up sob story about having a previous Internet boyfriend who invited her to the his country but refused to pay for the tickets, so the scammer paid her own money for the tickets, but the boyfriend turned out to be a sleazebag and disappeared, so now the poor girl is totally broke because the purchase of the tickets depleted her of all her savings.
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:
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
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.
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:
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|
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.
She contacts you first. Especially if the membership on the dating site is not free.
Her profile says that she is from a location near you, but later she tells you that she is actually from Russia, and that the initial location was a mistake, or that she couldn't select "Russia" from list of countries.
She says that it is her first attempt to find romance online, and that she picked your profile just because she liked it
She repeatedly insists that she is a very truthful person who hates lies and deceit, especially about personal feelings
She sends you a picture or two with almost every letter
Some of her pictures are pretty enticing. For example, pictures of her laying on her bed (and giving you "come and take me" look), in her bra, nude or covering her breasts with her hands, unbuttoning her shirt, winking at you while laying naked in bed, in bikini on a beach, swimming in water, showing off her boobs, raising her skirt, turning her nude back to you, etc. Watch out, such photos a huge warning sight. The more pictures of that kind she sends, the bigger the chance that she is up to no good. Sincere ladies save those kind of pictures until much later in the relationship.
Her pictures has numbers corresponding with the number of the letter (ex. 2.1, 2.3, 2.4 etc). This is usually a clear indication of pre-written correspondence.
Her pictures have names like "Hello" or "I_love_you", or "I miss you".
The file name of her pictures has a different first name than her own (ex; "Katya7.jpg" when your girl's name is Olga)
Her pictures have numbers next to them exceeding 5 or 10 (like Smirnova_K.15.jpg). Very few real girls have so many pictures available or ever fewer giving them numeric names.
Her life story is very sad. Her mom died during the child delivery, or her dad died in the line of duty as a policemen, or her dad abandoned the family, or something like that. She tells you that in her first or second letter.
She has a girlfriend who met a guy from a foreign country, she got her visa and now she lives in that foreign country with her beloved.
The girl's ability to write in English and her writing styles seem to change often
The letters are very long but mostly vague. She talks about her day, her work duties, her ideas about family, or her philosophy of love - bit does not comment on the information that YOU provided in your previous emails
The girl writes poetry in English
The girls says that she does not have a phone and insists that she calls you from some pay phone
The questions you ask will not be answered in the middle if the letter, but maybe as a P.S. note or as a few first or last lines.
Your name may appear in a different font than the rest of the letter. (ex, "Hello, my friend FRED")
Sometimes the questions you have asked don't get answered at all, or are answered a few letters later.
She asks you to excise her for not answering your questions because "her English is not very good"
The girl asks you some questions you have discussed before (for example, she would ask you if you like to watch movies while you have told her before that you do or do not like it).
The girl will make some little mistakes like mentioning different dates of her birthday, different number of siblings, etc.
The girl will sign her letter with a different female name. If asked about that slip up, she will explain it away somehow, like it is her Christian name which is different from her real name, etc.
The girl will start to develop some strong feelings toward you within an unusually short period of time - less than 2 weeks of correspondence. Honest Russian girls are very careful and guarded when talking about their feelings. Usually the words "love" and "marriage" will come not earlier than a few months of knowing each other closely. They do not fall in love from the first picture.
The girl will start sending you kisses and call you "darling" or "sunshine" or "my best friend" after less than a week of correspondence
The girl will sign her letters: "your love Natasha" or "your princess Natasha" or "your future wife Natasha" within a week or two of starting the correspondence.
Her "love" will grow fast and strong with every single letter and in a couple of weeks or so she will be completely crazy about you. Again, this would be very unusual for honest Russian girls who know that real feelings need time to develop and to be tested.
She will mention that her friends and colleagues at work started to notice that she daydreams a lot and suggested that she may be in love.
She will start sending more and more revealing pictures of herself or describe her sexual dreams about you. You can ask yourself who made those erotic pictures and for what purpose - or ask her, and see what she answers. Just for your information - the vast majority of Russian girls would never even think of sending a picture of themselves in their underwear to a person they hardly know. They probably wouldn't agree to make such pictures to begin with.
The girl will start describing an urgent desire to meet you in person within a month or so of correspondence.
The girl will start imagining your first meeting (usually when SHE arrives at the airport) in great detail with lots of sexual hints (passionate kisses, "embracing you gently", "feeling your body under your clothes", etc)
Your suggestion of coming to her country to meet her first is for some reason rejected. For example, the girl can tell you that traveling to Russia is too dangerous for you, or that she "does not like Russia". Very strong scammer alert - usually honest girls would prefer if you would come to visit them first, so they could introduce you to their family and make sure that you are what you say and you yourself are not a scam.
She says that she can get a fiancee visa. That is not possible for her to go without you filing the paperwork with your Embassy first.
She says that her visa would take only a couple of weeks to obtain.
Your suggestion of obtaining a different kind of visa (for example, a fiancée visa) will be for some reason rejected. For example, the girl will tell you that a US fiancée visa would take too long, while a tourist visa is very fast and easy. Exactly the opposite is true.
The girl's family member or friend is working in a travel agency or airport.
The girl's family member or friend is working in a university and can place her on the student exchange program.
The girl already has a tourist or work visa, but she doesn't have the money to buy the tickets or pay for the "insurance".
The girl goes ahead and applies for a visa without discussing it with you. This way she can be sure that the talk about money for the visa is inescapable. This is a very strong "scammer" signal since no honest girl in her right mind will apply for a visa without discussing it with you first. The honest girl would probably not even know how to apply for a visa. Most probably, an honest girl would leave the problem of obtaining a visa for her to you ("it's your country, so you figure out the best way to bring me over"). Visit your country's embassy web site to get familiar with the necessary processes which are required before the application for a visa can be made, and you will be amazed how easily it is to catch a liar on this point. Or call an immigration attorney to ask him what he thinks about your "fiancée's" decision. He will tell you.
The girl went ahead and made a downpayment with a tourist agency quickly, so the process would begin (usually $100-$500 of her own "reserve" money... or she sold her mother's wedding ring, or borrowed the money from her best friend...). That's what we call the GUILT TRAP. This way she can be almost sure that you will definitely send the rest of the sum needed for visa, so her own invested money would not get wasted.
The girl ordered the tickets without asking you what date she should arrive on.
The girl pawned some of her jewelry to pay for a "deposit" for the tickets. BTW, you can't buy tickets in installments. And there are no "cash deposits" on plane tickets, either.
The name of the receiver of the money is not her own or does not exactly match her name (for example "Pavlo" (men's name) instead of "Pavla" (woman's name); or "Evgeniy" (men's mans) vs. "Evgeniya" (women's name))
She tells you that her passport is being processed at the Embassy and she can't receive the money herself. So she suggest that her mother/father/ sister/ friend receives the money for her.
If you offer to buy tickets for her online using your credit card, she insists on buying them herself with cash. She can claim that she will get them cheaper through a travel agency, or that "requirements" are that she buys the tickets herself, or that the mail in Russia does not work well and purchased tickets may get lost in the mail.
If you do not send the money at her request she starts writing to you much less than before. The scammer is not going to waste time on "smart" (or "cheap", as they call them) victims. But they will still keep the correspondence going just in case you change your mind.
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?