The Weekly | Facebook Love Scams: Who’s Really Behind That Friend Request? | #whatsapp | #lovescams | #phonescams

<i>[lively classical music]</i> <i>RENEE: I didn’t even know what a friend request was.</i> <i>You know, it just came up on the Messenger thing,</i> <i>and I clicked on it, and, you know, I saw—</i> <i>it was a soldier.</i> <i>Good-looking guy, you know?</i> <i>Blue eyes, blond hair, buff.</i> <i>We just talked back and forth, and it was, like, exciting.</i> <i>He was just so grateful.</i> <i>This was a long time that we, you know,</i> <i>taking pictures and sending it.</i> <i>There are feelings there.</i> <i>You know, like, I really thought I knew this person.</i> It was just, wow. <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>JACK: There’s a lot of good that comes from the Internet,</i> <i>but the bad guys are gonna use that to exploit people.</i> <i>KIM: The problem is identifying.</i> <i>MAN 1: There’s thousands of these.</i> <i>WOMAN: Why hasn’t anything been done?</i> <i>MAN 1: Once you take one down,</i> <i>within 15 minutes there’s five more that pop up.</i> <i>MAN 2: Wow, this is just going too far.</i> <i>MARIA: I wish I never went on the Facebook.</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>RENEE: I would do anything to make the clocks go back</i> <i>and fix everything.</i> <i>[gentle music]</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>[pensive electronic music]</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>JACK: Facebook is getting older,</i> <i>and so are its users.</i> <i>The company’s fastest-growing demographic in the U.S…</i> <i>is people over 55.</i> <i>People like Renee Holland.</i> When did you first get onto Facebook? What happened? – You know, I never even thought of social media. It just never popped into my head, and my sister had never had a cell phone, and all of a sudden, she was, like, stuck. <i>She was telling me how interesting and how great,</i> <i>so I went and got one and downloaded Facebook,</i> <i>because I wanted to be close to my sisters</i> <i>and the kids and the whole family.</i> <i>The first message that I got was from Michael Chris.</i> <i>[gentle electronic music]</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>I clicked on it and I looked at his profile,</i> <i>and he was active duty in the Army.</i> <i>You know, he just wrote something silly,</i> and then I wrote back because, um, you know, my husband was Army Airborne. <i>We went back and forth and then, you know,</i> <i>he kept saying, “Oh, you’re really funny and you make,</i> <i>“you know, you make it easier for me</i> <i>just to know that somebody’s at home that I can talk to.”</i> <i>And how cool is this, that I could really make somebody feel better?</i> <i>He’s a good-looking guy, you know?</i> <i>JACK: So there was some flirting?</i> <i>RENEE: I mean, there was an emotional connection.</i> <i>I mean, it’s like, you know,</i> <i>he keeps calling me his wife.</i> <i>He would say, “I love you like that.”</i> It just, like, flowed. <i>JACK: As a retiree taking care of her elderly father,</i> <i>Renee had plenty of free time.</i> – “Good morning, my wife. Did you sleep well, my wife? “We got so many things to do in the next few days. “I’m helpless right now. “No one to comfort me here. I’m all alone, I’m all alone in my life.” <i>JACK: So when did Michael start asking you for things?</i> – Well, it started out with iTune cards, which I can understand, like, you want to play video games on your downtime. <i>But it started getting ridiculous</i> <i>with the iTune cards.</i> <i>JACK: How much money in iTunes gift cards did you send?</i> – Probably $1,500 to $2,000. JACK: Wow. Okay, let’s look at your Western Union receipts from your payments to Michael. <i>Renee’s new friend eventually wanted more</i> <i>than iTunes cards and began asking</i> <i>for larger sums of money.</i> <i>Without her husband’s knowledge,</i> <i>she started to wire thousands of dollars</i> <i>to his supposed contacts in the Army.</i> – This is one for $1,200. JACK: Okay. $500 on September 18th, and then you later sent him more money on October 3rd, which I think was 350. 800 bucks. A thousand dollars. $2,100. – Yeah. JACK: And you’ve never had any communication with these people? – Uh-uh. – It was just Michael sent you the name and said, “This is an Army agent,” basically? – Right. – There was actually a period here, about a week and a half, in which you sent, well, about $4,000, yeah. – It’s, like, really embarrassing. I’m feeling pretty stupid right now when I look at these now. Something happens in your brain, you know? JACK: Felt like you were kind of, what, hypnotized or just you were just totally convinced, huh? – Just like desperate. Just totally desperate and totally, like, I had to get something back and—my God. I can’t even believe this. Think I woulda knew after the first time. <i>[gentle music]</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>JACK: So at what point did you realize</i> <i>that this really was a scam?</i> – I Western Unioned money, um, for him to come home. <i>He was bringing his best friend home with him too.</i> <i>So it was $2,500 apiece</i> out of me and my husband’s life savings. <i>[somber music]</i> I had got myself a giant American flag, and I had gotten the windshield markers, “Welcome home.” <i>I go up to the Philadelphia International Airport.</i> <i>I’ve got my flag wrapped around me,</i> <i>and I was—you know, I just felt,</i> <i>the boys are coming home, and we’re gonna have</i> <i>a great time, I’m gonna show them all about.</i> <i>And, you know, I start looking at screens</i> <i>and stuff like that, and I’m like,</i> <i>wow, this is weird, you know?</i> There was no Malaysian Airlines there. <i>♪ ♪</i> This is when I went to the airport. – And it says “Iraq to Philadelphia.” – Iraq to Philadelphia. Who flies from a country into a city, you know? – [chuckles] <i>RENEE: These officers came up to me,</i> <i>and I showed them the tickets and everything,</i> <i>and he looked at me and he goes,</i> “Lady, you got scammed.” <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>JACK: What were you thinking?</i> <i>RENEE: I just got really scared,</i> <i>because I’m thinking: the money.</i> That’s all I was thinking about. I got scammed out of all this money. What am I gonna do? <i>I just gave away most of our life savings.</i> <i>JACK: So what happened?</i> <i>RENEE: I got desperate.</i> I bought, I think, two or three bottles of sleeping pills. <i>And then I went to a liquor store</i> <i>and I bought a bottle of vodka,</i> <i>and I just thought, you know what, my life’s over.</i> <i>You know, it just— it’s over.</i> The last thing I remember I was on 95 headed south, and I don’t know whatever happened after that. Alls I know is I woke up a week later in Christiana Hospital. JACK: Wow. <i>RENEE: And you open your eyes,</i> <i>and the person you didn’t want to face the most</i> <i>is sitting next to you.</i> <i>You know, Mark.</i> And how could I be forgiven for that? I mean, this was money that we had put away, and he trusted me, and I just gave it away. <i>[somber music]</i> <i>MARK: I get sick to my stomach thinking about it.</i> We had finally accumulated, you know, a nice nest egg, you know, that we were trying to put away, and it was gone. JACK: How much did you end up losing after it all? <i>MARK: Um, anywhere between, like, 26,000 and 30,000,</i> <i>right in there, I believe. JACK: Wow, wow.</i> <i>MARK: It was, like cash, and it was some</i> <i>on our credit cards and everything like that.</i> <i>I’m still paying for it.</i> JACK: What did it do to your marriage? – It put a damper on it big time, you know? And, uh, took a long time to get past that, you know? I still have issues with it, you know? JACK: Yeah. <i>MARK: I had a lot of anger, but I also had some—</i> <i>little bit of compassion ‘cause I knew, you know,</i> <i>how bad she felt. JACK: Yeah.</i> <i>MARK: I mean, I got past it, we got past it.</i> We’re not homeless, we’re not broke, you know? JACK: You’re still gonna live okay. – We’re still gonna live. JACK: Yeah. <i>In fact, Mark had a history of being violent with Renee.</i> <i>After learning of this,</i> <i>I talked with them about doing the story.</i> <i>They told me they wanted to go forward to help other people</i> <i>and that Mark’s abusive behavior was in the past.</i> <i>[gentle music]</i> <i>I believed them.</i> <i>[pulsating electronic music]</i> <i>For reasons she couldn’t explain,</i> <i>Renee kept in touch with Michael Chris,</i> <i>even after realizing that he had scammed her.</i> <i>RENEE: “My wife, you need to come online now.</i> “There is something important to discuss with you. “I don’t want nothing to come between us at all. “Let me know if you have gotten this message. Thanks, my wife. Good night.” <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>JACK: I’ve spent more than a year</i> <i>reporting on the havoc caused by the many fake accounts</i> <i>on Facebook,</i> <i>more than 100 million by the company’s own estimate,</i> <i>and that number doesn’t include Instagram,</i> <i>which Facebook also owns.</i> <i>There are fraudulent lotteries,</i> <i>celebrity imposters,</i> <i>even fake accounts for Facebook’s founder,</i> <i>Mark Zuckerberg.</i> <i>I wanted to understand why these scams</i> <i>thrive on Facebook.</i> So we’re gonna do something that tries to figure out where he is. RENEE: Okay. JACK: Okay? This is called an IP logger. And basically this link we’re going to send to him, and it’s going to link to a news article about Iraq, but when he clicks on it, we’re going to get data on my computer about where he is. – Wow. Okay. – So that’s our plan. – That’s fantastic. <i>JACK: We’re usually transparent in our reporting,</i> <i>but we couldn’t be if we wanted to find this scammer.</i> Okay, so let’s send it, and we’ll see if he clicks that. [phone chimes] – Are you sending the cards now, my wife? ‘Cause I need to check a news article you sent. [both chuckle] JACK: So let’s just wait. Let’s be patient. We’ll see what happens. <i>Renee hoped that by sharing her story with me,</i> <i>she might find out who Michael Chris really was.</i> <i>With any luck, that answer could be just a click away.</i> <i>[gentle music]</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> JACK: So let’s look at Michael Chris, ‘cause we messaged with him yesterday. RENEE: Let’s see if I got a message from him yet. 3:58 AM, “My wife, you need to come online now. “There is something important to discuss with you. “My boss called us in a few minutes ago, “and he told us that some of us in our camp, they’re gonna be deployed.” He’s pulled this too. “Our name will be listed for deployed “to very close to the Syrian border. “I’m so scared by this ‘cause my job is related “to bomb disarm, and that is what they need most there. “The ISIS are coming back with full force and full arms. My wife, please help me get iTune cards.” JACK: So he’s gonna get sent to the Syrian border, but all he needs is an iTunes gift card. – Yeah. – That was at 4:00 AM, and now he’s texting you at 10:00 AM, 10:59 AM. – 11:00, yeah. – Let me show you this. Let me show you this. – Okay. JACK: We had some good news over last night. We sent him a link, and if you click on it, we were gonna get the IP log to see his IP address, and so when I woke up this morning, we had this. Nigeria. RENEE: He’s in Lagos. JACK: He’s in Lagos, yeah. RENEE: Wow. JACK: So now we know where he is, and we can even sort of geolocate with the IP address here. – You can get an address? – Well, we can’t get an address, but we can get an approximate location. This is probably about roughly where he is, and this is Lagos here. So we know now that Michael Chris, your scammer, was not in Iraq. He was actually in Lagos. So how are you feeling? RENEE: Wow. I mean, I kinda knew, okay, Renee, it’s over, but some of me wishes that he was that person, because it makes you feel really stupid that I fell for such a thing. JACK: You were hoping maybe you’d be vindicated. That he was who he was saying he was. – Yeah, and— JACK: That would— This would make the whole story a lot better if you could get your money back and he was actually who he was and— – Yeah, and, like, I would make it okay with my husband. <i>JACK: So now that we’d established that Renee</i> <i>had been communicating with someone in Nigeria</i> <i>and not an American soldier in Iraq,</i> <i>a central question emerged:</i> <i>Who was the man in all these photos?</i> <i>I searched through Facebook,</i> <i>sifted through military photos,</i> <i>called wrong numbers, knocked on doors.</i> <i>It took me more than a month,</i> <i>but I finally found the face of Michael Chris.</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>DANIEL: My name is Daniel Anonsen.</i> <i>I’m 30 years old.</i> <i>I did 13 years in the Marine Corps.</i> I got on Facebook probably, like, 2007, 2008. <i>A couple years after, I started noticing</i> <i>I had, like, a stockpile of these just messages</i> <i>saying someone’s impersonating you.</i> That’s when I started looking for profiles. I typed my name into Facebook, and, um, they started popping up. <i>[pensive music]</i> In some of them there were pictures of me in uniform. <i>Not only is that stealing my identity,</i> <i>but that’s, like, stolen valor.</i> <i>I have a huge problem with that.</i> <i>It’s very upsetting, honestly, because it’s my image</i> <i>being used to take advantage of someone.</i> <i>There was photos sent to me of me</i> <i>from these women that were saying,</i> <i>“We’ve been communicating for months.”</i> <i>You know, “What’s going on? Where are you?</i> <i>I miss you. I love you.”</i> <i>And it’s like, “Oh, my God, this is not me.</i> “I haven’t done anything. I don’t even know you. I don’t know where you are.” <i>JACK: You have, I mean, potentially hundreds</i> of women out there who think… – Yeah. JACK: They’re in a relationship with you or think they’ve been scammed by you or something like that. – Yeah, it makes me feel like I’m to blame, I guess, because I put my trust in—into Facebook. JACK: The first result for a Google of your name is Facebook. DANIEL: Yeah. JACK: These are not you, I’m assuming. – No, they are—no. JACK: This one, “How do I look?” “Hot, love the tats.” “Sweet, like a million.” “Looking great. Love the tattoo.” “Hi, beautiful, you made my day in a big way.” I mean, we’ve got photos of you, seems like, you know, on vacation or— DANIEL: That’s in Hawaii. JACK: Okay. <i>DANIEL: I tried messaging Facebook,</i> <i>and basically Facebook gave me the response of,</i> “We will look into this. Thank you for your— “Thank you for your contact with us. We will get back with you shortly with an answer.” It was disingenuous completely. It was basically Facebook’s way of saying, “We’ll look into it. Here’s a response so that we can, like, cover our butt.” And that’s the exact feeling that I got. I deleted Facebook, deleted Instagram. I was like, you know what, I’m finally just done. I can’t even tell you how many profiles I’ve reported. It—it was a lot. You know, for every one that I deleted, there was ten more that were popping up. I can’t get it to stop. <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>JACK: Daniel quit Facebook and Instagram years ago,</i> <i>yet I still found about 65 fake accounts</i> <i>that used his photos and variations of his name.</i> <i>And there are countless other service members</i> <i>whose identities have been hijacked</i> <i>by Facebook imposters.</i> Over the past several months, I’ve been investigating the issue of scammers posing as active duty military and veterans on social media. What’s the military doing about this issue? – So we work very closely with the different social media platforms to make certain that we prioritize this as a problem. We’re constantly scanning to see where those— you know, if those accounts are out there. – What is your relationship like with Facebook? How have they responded to this? – They’re doing great. I mean, they prioritize our concerns. – You’re satisfied with how Facebook is addressing this issue? – Absolutely. – You feel like they’re doing enough. Okay, I just spent a few minutes, and I looked up three of your most senior military officers. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, Army Chief of Staff, Mark Milley and the Air Force Chief of Staff, David Goldfein. I was able to find, just in a few minutes, 120 imposters alone on Facebook and Instagram. This is—and there were far, far more. KIM: Wow. That’s disturbing. JACK: Okay, so are you currently satisfied though with Facebook’s response? I mean, given what you’ve now just seen, what I just showed you? – I’m—the problem is identifying them. JACK: Okay. – I think once we identify them, I’m very satisfied with how Facebook reacts. JACK: Okay, so I reported yesterday— I did this with Joseph Dunford and David Goldfein. 30 to Facebook. Facebook did not respond to any of them. They’re still up. 46 to Instagram. And on every single response they said, “We’ve reviewed the account you reported for impersonation and found it does not violate our guidelines.” So your response was you feel like when you identify it to Facebook, they take it down. Do you still feel that way? – Well, I think when we do. – Okay. – I’m not certain about <i>The New York Times.</i> JACK: Isn’t your staff supposed to be identifying these and taking these down? KIM: They are. Weekly, they do a scan… JACK: Okay. – For these things, and they’re just— the numbers are astounding. – Why is one of the most technologically advanced companies in the world and the most powerful military in the world not able to stop a bunch of Nigerian teenagers from scamming American citizens? – [chuckles] That’s a good question. And I don’t have an answer for you. JACK: Okay. <i>[pensive music]</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> JACK: You know, these scammers are trading tips and trading stolen accounts of, you know, fake Facebook profiles. It’s actually pretty easy to find these, ‘cause you just search on Facebook and all these different groups come up. <i>They call themselves Yahoo Boys,</i> <i>because scams like this became prevalent on Yahoo</i> <i>about 20 years ago.</i> <i>Now, a new generation of con artists</i> <i>is pulling a similar hustle on Facebook and Instagram,</i> <i>planning scams in the open in public Facebook groups.</i> And just searching military, it shows how this is a very popular scam for them. All these guys, “Military dating formats for sale,” which means he wants the blueprint on how to pull off one of these military romance scams. This one’s great. “I need military man pics, age range 40 to 50.” Kind of the most disturbing thing is how these scammers target victims. So one of the most popular Facebook groups for widows is a group called My Husband in Heaven. On many of these comments, you’re getting replies from Facebook accounts that allege to be, you know, men who are apologizing for their loss and trying to talk to these people. It’s really sad that this is where these predators are finding their prey are in these widow groups. <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>Yahoo boys will often hide their tracks</i> <i>by having their victims wire money</i> <i>to a mysterious third party.</i> Hello. WOMAN: Hello. JACK: So we’re going to see a woman that Renee sent a good chunk of money to last year. Michael Chris directed Renee to send money to her, so somehow she’s linked in. How so, we’re trying to figure that out, whether she’s an accomplice or maybe she may be a victim of the scam herself. I’m somewhat skeptical that this is gonna work, but sometimes as a reporter you have to go knock on a door and see if someone answers. <i>♪ ♪</i> [knocking] Hi. I’m looking— I’m looking for Maria. MARIA: Yes. – Hi, Maria. My name’s Jack Nicas. I’m a reporter with <i>The New York Times.</i> I know, I’m sorry, it’s very strange to come to your door, but I’m—I’m doing a story about a Facebook scam, and I think you might have been a victim of it. Have you ever heard from, like, a weird guy who’s pretending to be in the military or sending you money? MARIA: Yes. – You have? Okay. MARIA: Yes, a lot. – I see, okay, so this is exactly what I’m writing about, and these people are scammers and— MARIA: Yes, I know. – Okay. So have you been—have you had problems with them? Did you lose money? MARIA: Yes. – Wow, I’m so sorry to hear that. <i>[somber music]</i> <i>So I’m writing a big story trying to expose this problem.</i> <i>MARIA: Yeah, but I don’t want my name used,</i> <i>because I don’t want my kids to know</i> <i>that I did that stupid thing.</i> <i>JACK: Okay.</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> MARIA: My husband died, and then my kids moved out, and I created a Facebook after that. JACK: Mm-hmm. MARIA: So I had something to do when I was home alone. That’s when he befriended me on Facebook. JACK: And what was his name? MARIA: His name was Jacob Lloyd Kotter. JACK: Jacob Lloyd Kotter? MARIA: Kotter, yeah. JACK: Okay. MARIA: He said that he was a sergeant in the Army. He started complimenting and telling me how he want to meet me, and he’s gonna come home, and we’ll have a good life together. JACK: How long did you talk before he started asking for money? MARIA: Maybe six months. – How much did you send him? MARIA: All total, probably 15,000, maybe 20,000, I don’t—I don’t know. JACK: Where did you come up with that money? MARIA: I was working. I would send him every time I had extra money, and at one point, I stopped paying my mortgage. JACK: Wow, wow. MARIA: So, um… I’m still trying to get out of my mortgage. [sniffles] I’m still paying for that, so I almost lost my house. JACK: And you’re behind on your mortgage now? MARIA: Yeah. JACK: Wow. MARIA: I told him that my— my bank froze my account because I sent money to Nigeria, so he said, “Okay, this lady from Florida “is gonna send you the money, so you take her money, and you send it to this account.” – So the woman who sent you money, her name is Renee Holland, and she is, uh, a woman who lives in Florida and went through a very similar scam, and we—we believe, based on the information, that she probably was talking to the same person. MARIA: It’s terrible that somebody would do something like that, you know? I don’t know how humans can do that to another human. I just feel stupid for doing this. I feel embarrassed. I wish I never went on the Facebook. There’s a lot of horrible things in there. <i>[gentle music]</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> JACK: So last week, I tried Renee’s home phone number, and it was disconnected, and I got a pit in my stomach, ‘cause it just didn’t feel right, and at work, uh, one morning, I—I Googled her, and, um… I was—I was horrified with what I found. – Three people dead this Christmas week. – A double murder, suicide. <i>REPORTER: 84-year-old Rudolph Rehm and his daughter,</i> <i>58-year-old Renee Holland shot and killed.</i> <i>This is the man who is responsible,</i> <i>53-year-old Mark Holland.</i> – Neighbors reported hearing screaming and gunfire. <i>CALLER 1: We’ve got some sort of a crazy incident going on.</i> <i>CALLER 2: Oh, God, someone’s screaming,</i> <i>“Oh God, oh, God,” and moaning.</i> <i>CALLER 1: It sounded like a gunshot.</i> <i>CALLER 2: There were at least four shots.</i> <i>Right through the walls. It’s in the house.</i> <i>REPORTER: Mark Holland later died</i> <i>from self-inflicted injury.</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>JACK: The police report offered little insight into what happened.</i> <i>It made no reference to Mark’s history of domestic violence.</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> [knocking] Hey, Susan. – Hi, there! JACK: How are you? So good to meet you. – Hello. Nice to meet you. – Yeah, likewise, likewise. Thanks so much for having me. Can you tell me, how did you first meet Renee? SUSAN: Renee and I became friends on Facebook. She was really funny. I mean, she just cracked me up. And I have a sense of humor too, so we were, like, always, you know, kind of laughing together, and then we would start— We messaged, you know, privately on the Messenger. JACK: Okay. SUSAN: Then, you know, with her living in Florida and me here, she would call me. We would talk for hours. JACK: Oh, wow. – We’d be on the phone for hours. I learned about her family growing up and her children and stuff. You know, we continued being great friends. JACK: Okay. <i>[somber music]</i> <i>SUSAN: She was so— so generous with herself</i> <i>and so compassionate and easy to talk to and so down-to-earth.</i> <i>We just kept each other in stitches.</i> <i>You know, she didn’t have a whole lot of friends,</i> <i>so she said, “I just feel like I’ve connected with you,”</i> <i>and she goes, “You understand me, you get me.”</i> <i>The last message she— we kept, you know,</i> <i>going back and forth, and on the 23rd,</i> <i>I had gotten a message, and so Christmas Eve,</i> the next day, I replied back to her, but I didn’t know she was already gone. “I’m here for you. That’s never gonna change. “We will hook up soon. Love you a lot. Merry Christmas.” And that was— yeah, that was just six hours before she died. “RIP, my friend. Until we meet again. Hugs.” I only knew her a short time, but the impression she left on me will last a lifetime. She lives on in many ways. Yeah, it’s—it’s so sad. It really is. JACK: I know, I know. <i>♪ ♪</i> SUSAN: She touched so many people. <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>JACK: Before she died, Renee had introduced</i> <i>my colleague and me to her scammer, Michael Chris.</i> <i>She told him we were her friends.</i> Let’s talk to him. Let’s do it. He’s now said, “How are you doing? Are you there?” <i>Now he was reaching out to us,</i> <i>saying he hadn’t heard from Renee in weeks.</i> “I just recently learned terrible news.” ROLAKE: “About Renee.” JACK: Yeah. “She was shot and killed by her husband.” Or I should say, “She and her father.” – Yeah. <i>♪ ♪</i> JACK: This is surreal to have to send this to him. They’ve been talking, you know, nearly every day for a long time, and how’s he gonna react, who knows? <i>♪ ♪</i> He said, “OMG.” <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>It was time to explain that I was a journalist</i> <i>and that I wanted to meet him.</i> ROLAKE: I think we let him talk. JACK: Mm-hmm. ROLAKE: ‘Cause he’s gonna, you know, explain that he needs money or whatever, and then we just tell him. JACK: All right, so plan is— ROLAKE: We just want to know how you do it. JACK: Right. “My colleague and I?” ROLAKE: Yeah. – “Are reporters for <i>The New York Times.</i> “We met Renee while doing a story on women who meet men on the Internet.” He responded, “Okay, nice job.” “We know that you are not an American soldier. We know you are in Lagos, and we want to meet you.” <i>[gentle music]</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> He said, “No one is perfect.” <i>[mellow music]</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>JACK: Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg</i> <i>has been on a mission to connect the world.</i> <i>That desire brought him to Nigeria,</i> <i>a country with more Internet users</i> <i>than any other African nation.</i> – I wanted to come to Lagos first, because of the vibrant developer and entrepreneurial ecosystem that you guys have here. <i>JACK: There are many benefits to connecting the world,</i> <i>including for Facebook’s business,</i> <i>but there are also downsides to this extraordinary growth.</i> So we’re now finally in Lagos, and I have been messaging countless Yahoo Boys via Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, Facebook’s other messaging platform. I’m in about a dozen groups now where they trade blueprints on how to scam people. Oh, here’s a good one. “Inbox me for all kinds of documents, “receipts, bus tickets, background changing, “client’s name on paper, certificate, “change of ownership. “Don’t want until clients ask for your particulars Get all your tools ready.” So I’ve been using these groups to find potential people to talk to me, but I would say 99% of the Yahoo Boys have either ignored me, um, blocked me, or tried to scam me themselves. <i>No one would talk to me online,</i> <i>so I headed out to where Yahoo Boys</i> <i>can sometimes still be found:</i> <i>the Internet cafes of Lagos.</i> [car horn blaring] Hey, Bukky. BUKKY: Hello. JACK: So do you think any of these guys are Yahoo Boys? Can you tell? – Right now, all these people don’t visit— – Okay. Okay. – No. – Basically the first Internet cafe is mostly, uh, older guys, and our main fixer feels like there’s not many Yahoo Boys in there, <i>but the next one, there’s a bunch of other, younger guys,</i> so he’s talking to them to try to figure out if he can persuade one of them to talk to us, and I’m gonna go in there in a second. [indistinct chatter] I’m gonna sit there if you don’t mind. Thank you very much. Appreciate it. Can you write your name here? So you go by Bolaji? – Yeah. – Okay. And how old are you? BOLAJI: I’m 35. – 35. And what do you do for work? BOLAJI: No, no employment. Unemployed. JACK: Unemployed, okay. And, um, do you do Yahoo? – Yes. JACK: Okay. So tell me about the military scam. So where do you find the photos? How do you, like, find the photos to be a military person? JACK: Okay. JACK: Uh-huh. Okay, so you just take their photos off Facebook. – Yeah, I just take some photos. JACK: And then you create a new profile. I see. And how do you find clients? JACK: Yeah. JACK: But you look for a beautiful woman? – Not really. Any woman. JACK: Okay. JACK: Okay. I see. Why is military so popular? JACK: I see, I see. – Do you ever feel guilty or do you feel sad that you’re tricking a woman and taking their money sometimes? JACK: Yeah. JACK: What’s the most you ever made? – Me? JACK: Yeah. – $5,000. JACK: $5,000. Off one person? – Yes. – That change your life? BOLAJI: It changed— JACK: So you pulled off this scam in order to pay for your tuition? – Yes. JACK: Yeah. Right. JACK: Yeah. You stopped? Okay. Okay. Oh, tell me about that. JACK: Oh, you are? On Facebook? Where does she live? And does she want to come to Lagos? – Oh, so she wants you to go to Georgia. BOLAJI: Yeah. <i>JACK: In this Yahoo Boy culture,</i> <i>it’s hard to know what’s true.</i> Nigeria has gained a reputation for Internet scams. Is it a fair reputation? ADEDEJI: No. JACK: MM-HMM. ADEDEJI: I think Nigerians are just the best at it. They’re not the only ones doing this. JACK: I see. ADEDEJI: It all began from the earlier letter scam. JACK: Ah, right. ADEDEJI: And then the Internet, we had a lot more opportunities. JACK: Right. – You can connect to any part of the world. You can conceal where you are, and then you’re fine. – How did Facebook change it? – Social networking sites made it easier for people to get connected with other people. JACK: What does the future look like for Yahoo Boys in Nigeria? – With the Internet, there is endless opportunities. You block one, they create another. So there will always be Yahoo Boys, unless you make the economy better for everybody. JACK: Did you ever— you considered doing it. ADEDEJI: Yes, I did. – Wow. And, uh, why— why couldn’t you resist? What made you do it? – It was the easiest way to make money. JACK: Okay. ADEDEJI: But then I stopped. As a Yahoo Boy, sometimes you need to stay up all night. JACK: Right. ADEDEJI: So— JACK: So the reason you didn’t do it is because you didn’t have the time to do it. – No time. JACK: But what about the fact that you were gonna be cheating people out of their money? Was there a moral aspect of this, of your decision? ADEDEJI: When you interact with Yahoo Boys… JACK: Yeah. – You forget morals, because you begin to see it from your own perspective. <i>ADEDEJI: In the face of survival,</i> <i>many young boys will get involved in many things.</i> <i>JACK: Mm-hmm. ADEDEJI: At that point in time—you know poverty</i> <i>cannot withstand the pressure of temptation.</i> When you see opportunity, and you are poor, and then this is gonna give you survival, you have to take it. JACK: Right. <i>We have these new technology platforms</i> <i>where people are being connected,</i> <i>and you have young men who can’t find jobs</i> <i>who are finding ways to, to them,</i> a justified way to take money from better-off people in the Western parts of the world, and these technology platforms are enabling that to happen. <i>Finding Renee’s and Maria’s scammers have been difficult,</i> <i>but we had a lead on someone who might bring us closer.</i> Maria basically told her scammer that she had a package to send him and that she wanted to send it to him in order to try to lure an address for him here in Nigeria, and then finally he sent her this name of this guy, Orgijames Ogbenaya, which is suddenly a new name we had never heard before, and this guy is in Owerri, Nigeria, and now the plan is to go there tomorrow. So I’m leaving in the morning. <i>[tense music]</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>FLIGHT ATTENDANT: [indistinct] for departure.</i> <i>Please make sure your seatbacks are in their upright position,</i> <i>armrests and all tray tables stored away,</i> <i>seatbelts securely fastened.</i> <i>JACK: I flew south to Owerri,</i> <i>hoping to find someone</i> <i>connected to Maria and Renee’s scams.</i> <i>Joining me on the flight was Tony Iyare,</i> <i>a local journalist who has worked</i> <i>with</i> The Times <i>for decades.</i> It is the number that the scammer even just as recently as two days ago gave… – Yes. – For this guy, Orgijames Ogbenaya. – Okay. JACK: I hope this works. [line ringing] Hello? <i>MAN: Hello?</i> – Hi, I’m looking for Orgijames. <i>MAN: Who? Orgijames?</i> – Yes, I’m looking for Orgijames Ogbenaya. <i>MAN: Yes, [indistinct]. Yeah, this is Orgijames.</i> – Ah, good to meet you. Thank you very much. My name is Jack Nicas, and I’m an American journalist with <i>The New York Times.</i> I’m contacting you because we are writing a story about Yahoo Boys, and we— I had heard that maybe you in the past or you used to be a Yahoo Boy or something and— <i>ORGIJAMES: I don’t know what you’re talking about.</i> – Okay. Well, I’m not— I don’t know if you— I don’t know if you’re associated— [beeping] He hung up. <i>♪ ♪</i> He just said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” and he hung up. [sighs] <i>[tense music]</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>I had confirmed through sources</i> <i>that much of Renee’s and Maria’s money</i> <i>had ended up here in Owerri.</i> DRIVER: This street? – This street, yes. Thank you very much. <i>So we began visiting the addresses of the men</i> <i>who received those payments.</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>But our door knocking turned up nothing.</i> All we have is a phone number and some bad addresses, and we’re driving around Owerri trying to find this— he’s a ghost, basically. <i>♪ ♪</i> All right, I’m gonna call. [line ringing] <i>AUTOMATED VOICE: Please wait.</i> <i>Your call is being forwarded.</i> [beeping] – Call failed. I’ll try it again. [line ringing] <i>AUTOMATED VOICE: Please wait.</i> <i>Your call is being forwarded.</i> [beeping] <i>AUTOMATED VOICE: Please wait.</i> <i>Your call is being forwarded. </i>- [chuckles] [static] <i>AUTOMATED VOICE: The subscriber you are calling is switched off.</i> <i>To send an insta-voice message—</i> – He shut off his phone. Okay. [sighs] I think we gotta take a hint, he doesn’t want to talk to us. TONY: Yes. – Okay, so we’re not really any closer to understanding what happened here than we were when we arrived. <i>When I returned to Lagos that night,</i> <i>I took another shot at reaching Maria’s scammer.</i> I’m saying, “Hi, Jacob, it’s Jack. “I’m in Nigeria now. Let’s meet. “I want to let you tell your story of why you’ve decided to become a Yahoo Boy.” He said, “Jack, give me some space. “I don’t want to talk to you, nor meet you. “We’re here on different interests in assignment. Leave my family alone.” Wow. <i>[gentle music]</i> I’m saying, “Why do you do this?” <i>♪ ♪</i> He was typing, uh, but… Seems like it’s gone cold again. <i>♪ ♪</i> At this point, it’s a stalemate. You know, I feel for Maria, and I’m thinking about Renee. I think Renee would have loved to have seen me interrogate Michael Chris a little bit, but, um, obviously that didn’t happen. And, uh, it goes to show, this is just gonna keep happening. <i>♪ ♪</i> <i>[percussive electronic music]</i> <i>♪ ♪</i> JACK: So when I got back from Nigeria, I called Facebook and told them that I had been working on a story about Internet romance scams, essentially. You know, within a day I got Jen Martinez, who’s a spokeswoman at Facebook, and laid out basically what we were reporting and talked about how we’re looking at large-scale impersonation of military veterans on their platform, and that we’re— we’re just trying to understand what Facebook’s doing to try to prevent this sort of abuse to happen on its site. <i>Facebook declined a request for an interview.</i> <i>Instead, it sent a statement.</i> <i>“We require people to use their real identities on Facebook,</i> <i>“and pretending to be someone else</i> <i>“is an explicit violation of our policies.</i> <i>“We’ve invested heavily in strengthening our technology</i> <i>“to keep them off Facebook,</i> <i>“and we work with law enforcement</i> <i>to prosecute scammers.”</i> <i>Facebook cites several steps it takes</i> <i>to police fake accounts:</i> <i>developing software to spot suspicious behavior,</i> <i>using facial recognition to identify imposters,</i> <i>and encouraging people to report fakes.</i> You want to get the full story, and it is frustrating as I come to the end of months and months of reporting, that, you know, essentially, this one scammer that I’m trying to get answers from and this massive corporation I’m trying to get answers from are kinda giving me the same runaround. <i>NARRATOR: The Internet is a great place</i> <i>to connect with the people and things you care about.</i> <i>But just like any public space,</i> <i>it’s important to stay safe</i> <i>and protect yourself against possible scams.</i> <i>Romance scammers are typically people you do not know</i> <i>who attempt to gain your trust and affection</i> <i>without ever meeting you in person.</i> <i>They often pretend to be divorced…</i> JACK: So this is the spreadsheet… DANIEL: Mm-hmm. JACK: Of fake Daniel Anonsens on Facebook, and I’ve reported every single one of these to Facebook, and of about 65 or so, still 47 of them are still up. DANIEL: Still 47 of them are active. Okay. JACK: So they took down about 20 out of 65 or so. I gave them your name. I said Daniel Anonsen. I said he’s a real Marine, and then through their official reporting channels on, I reported all of these accounts. DANIEL: Right. JACK: They’ve taken down less than a third. <i>Facebook executives admit they’re cautious</i> <i>when removing accounts, because they don’t want</i> <i>to mistakenly delete real ones,</i> <i>but it’s worth noting, Facebook measures success,</i> <i>in part, on its number of users.</i> I wonder, given the statistics here, how do you feel about Facebook’s ability to remedy this problem? – At this point, I feel like they’re— they’re doing the absolute minimum of what they— “Oh, see, we are working on it,” but they’re not really gonna resolve the issue. You know, they’re doing enough to go to the headline and say, “Oh, we’ve taken down so many,” but in the grand scheme of things, there’s still, you know, 3/4 of the problem for me individually that is still persistent. JACK: Yeah. Yeah. Do you feel like you see a situation in which you no longer have to worry about your identity and your photos being online without your permission? – No, I don’t see a future where I’m not gonna have that in the back of my head. JACK: Do you think you’ll ever return to social media? – I don’t see that. I really don’t. Just because it is so rampant and widespread. <i>JACK: Facebook recently raised its estimate</i> <i>for the number of fake accounts,</i> <i>a number that is now approaching 120 million.</i> <i>[somber music]</i> <i>The company has clearly succeeded</i> <i>in its mission of connecting the world.</i> <i>But it has also escalated an age-old scam,</i> <i>one that preys on vulnerable people</i> <i>who long for that connection.</i> <i>♪ ♪</i>

Click Here For The Original Source.

. . . . . . .