by Pamela Maringa

Over the years countless people have been intentionally misled by strangers into participating in what is known as “get rich quick scams”. Because of the speed at which technology has advanced, we have become vulnerable to these scams. From prize and lottery scams, pyramid schemes, email scams, employment scams, gambling, to online romance and dating scams.

A month ago I received an email from an address I didn’t know. The sender was a man who introduced himself as a soldier from the US military. The first email was very detailed, almost as if it was coming out of a movie script. The second email was even deeper. This time he talked about marriage and his relationship with God. I guess that was to soften me up. Each email came with pictures of him in the military uniform. All these pictures looked Photoshopped with different faces. So I showed the emails to my colleagues. The more emails he sent, the more we were on to him. So I decided to play along. I was curious to find out how he was going to play it out. In the meanwhile, I did some research about military romance scams.

After his first email, I asked him where he got my email address. He said he got it from LinkedIn. That was first place I searched and needless to say, he was not there. So my friends and I did a picture search. All the pictures he had sent me had been used before, but with different names. All the emails he sent me had been reposted by other women, who were trying to warn others of this man. It turned out that the man behind this scam is from Nigeria.

To cut the long story short, he told me he was chosen to come to Africa to train young soldiers in Senegal. He said he had gifts for me which his friend, who is a cleric, was going to ship to me in South Africa. The pastor contacted me and he asked for $250 to get the gifts to me, because he was unable to get hold of his friend who was supposedly doing his assignment in Africa. When he saw that he was not getting any money from me, he stopped.

It ended, just the way I had predicted. His plan was to have me fall for him so he could rob me. The reason I chose to correspond with this man was to start a conversation about relationship scams. My journalist friends were willing to expose this scam only if he was willing to share more information about himself. Since then many other women and men have come out to share their stories. They often feel embarrassed to talk about it.

It is important that we be extra careful and question the intentions of the people we allow in our lives and the activities we engage in. These days it’s not easy to trust a stranger. They can be very good at manipulating your emotions until you give them some level of trust. It is imperative that you talk about it. A person who is not emotionally involved will be able to be objective. Most importantly: never share your private information such as your banking details, ID number or your address with anyone online.

Online relationships may work in some cases, but remember that not everyone has good intentions when they come in to your life. The next time you make friends with a stranger online, ask yourself, “What does this person want and why are they talking to me?”