Cape Town is being turned into an international cybercrime capital thanks to a dating scam which targets middle-aged women on platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook.
The Sunday Times reported that online scammers are stealing billions of rands from vulnerable women using this dating scam.
According to the report, criminals are using WhatsApp, Facebook, and dating sites to target desperate middle-aged women.
The scammers create fake profiles to build a relationship with victims, and after they built a romantic relationship, they make up a story to ask for money.
A prosecutor who specialises in commercial crimes said the scammers were all Nigerians based in Cape Town.
These criminals target English-speaking women in South Africa, America, Australia, New Zealand, England, and Canada.
How the dating scam works
Unlike typical 419 scams which rely on greed by promising quick riches to victims, this dating scam abuses vulnerable women’s desire for love.
There are common threads in many of these dating scams:
- The scammers create a fake profile which uses the name and likeness of an actual person, often a soldier, doctor, or someone working on an oil rig.
- The scammers send out friendship requests through online platforms or email. They often say they were widowed under tragic circumstances.
- After a victim starts communicating with them, the scammer starts to build a strong emotional relationship with the victim.
- There are promises of a physical introduction after the victim starts to develop feelings for the fake person (scammer). However, before this can happen, the person is deployed.
- Requests for money follow, for things like an Internet connection, to pay for flights, or to help them financially.
- The scammers often work with other accomplices posing as doctors or lawyers to extract a steady stream of money.
These scams can drag on for months, fleecing victims out of as much money as possible.
What to look out for
The Federal Trade Commission in the United States published warning signs to look out for when identifying a scammer.
The scammers often say they are living or travelling abroad. These jobs include being a soldier, an international doctor, or working on an oil rig.
These dating or romance scammers then ask for money to:
- Pay for a plane ticket or other travel expenses
- Pay for surgery or other medical expenses
- Pay customs fees to retrieve something
- Pay off gambling debts
- Pay for a visa or other official travel documents
The simple way to avoid falling victim is to never send money or gifts to someone you haven’t met in person.