Don't get lured by promise of love

A screengrab sent to woman. Picture: Rusa

A screengrab sent to woman. Picture: Rusa

Published Feb 16, 2024


Don’t let the promise of love cost you dearly, warns the South African Banking Risk Information Centre (Sabric).

As online dating in South Africa experiences a surge in popularity, an influx of scammers has also emerged.

According to Sabric, romance scammers often go as far as creating profiles that match the requirements of the persons targeted, to quickly build trust between themselves and the unsuspecting victims.

Nischal Mewalall, chief executive officer of Sabric, said: “The online dating market in South Africa is predicted to witness a substantial growth in the number of users and revenue.

"Statista, a German online platform that specialises in data gathering and visualisation, reported that online dating revenue would reach more than R450 million in 2024 and online dating sites would have about 6.7 million users by 2028," said Mewalall.

“Fraudsters typically create fake profiles on dating websites, social media platforms, or online forums to gain access to unsuspecting victims. Once they gain access to their targets, they establish connections and trust by showering potential victims with affection, compliments, and promises of lasting love. Some fraudsters even shower their targets with flashy gifts and money.”

Private investigators and security companies have also noted an increase in women, especially single and divorced women, being scammed.

Prem Balram, spokesperson of Reaction Unit South Africa (Rusa), said although some women reported being scammed, they were unable to get their money back.

He said they were also apprehensive about opening civil cases as they were "too embarrassed".

“All scams have a similar modus operandi. Targets are between 16 and 75 years old, who have similar stories of looking for love.

"There were four women from different towns, who were scammed by a man posing as a pilot. The man introduced himself as Ravi Kumar, a single airline pilot, from California in the USA.

"He sent friend requests to women on Facebook and then chatted on Facebook Messenger, asking for contact numbers. After chatting for a few weeks, he requested home addresses to send gifts, then professed his love; promising to visit South Africa and marrying the victims.

"Later, he requested R5 000 daily for a box packed with gifts and cash that were being withheld at customs, or he was stuck at the airport, or his bank cards were lost. The women were collectively scammed out of R97 000,” Balram said.

In a separate scam on TikTok, two single mothers, aged 26 and 32, and a divorcee, 36, were scammed for a total of R113 450 by the same man, who promised them marriage.

“The women, from Verulam and Phoenix, asked for help to free their online friend who was en-route to South Africa to marry them, but was stuck at various airports in Africa,” Balram added.

They met the man on TikTok after they received compliments on videos they posted. The man said he was a single military doctor and a multi-millionaire from the USA.

“He said he intended to leave Turkey and arrive in Durban to marry them. The women were unknown to each other and all three prepared for his arrival.

"We warned the women that they were being scammed. Two of them refused to accept that the man was a scammer and continued communicating with him. All three were eventually scammed for R113 450 in total. The woman that stopped communication was only scammed for R450.

“The women contacted Rusa when he wanted more money for a Covid-19 test and several pints of blood that would cost thousands. The divorcee paid R4 000 and was later informed by the man that he would not be released from a laboratory at King Shaka International Airport until more money was paid

"The women were only convinced that they were scammed after Rusa officers called the police at the airport and they confirmed that no such laboratory existed there, and no person with the provided details was being held in custody."

Brad Nathanson, a private investigator, said in 2023, he dealt with more than 40 cases where women were scammed by men online.

“One woman gave away about R3 million. They don't ever get anything back because there’s nothing banks can do, as the transactions were done willingly and not with someone holding a gun to the women’s heads.

“We try to warn women to not fall into these traps, but they will still fall for it because there is nothing stronger than love, or perceived love. So many of these women, who I have dealt with, have fallen in love because of sweet words from a stranger.

"Even though it is clear garbage and messages are not even written properly, the women are blind when they get attention. Men know this and know ways to manipulate women. Women are sweet bait. If the scammer is told to 'bugger off', they have lost nothing, but they know there are women who will fall for their scam,” he said.

Nathanson said the biggest problem with online scams was that women don’t speak out and open cases against these men after realising that they were scammed.

“They are embarrassed for what they have done, how much money they lost, and the stupidity they believed. But scamming women has become a business. These men have nothing else to do but message women from the morning to the wee hours, and are usually wooing about five to six women at a time.

“When they find out they have been scammed, it is sad that they are in utter disbelief. Some of them say, ‘If he did that to them, he would not do that to me’ and they don't want to face the truth.

"When I give them the merits of the previous cases, they look at me in disbelief. When divorced women or widows put themselves out there, men troll social media and look at them as live bait.

“Social media is the only reason the scam exists. Scammers need social anonymity and social media gives you that. How much more can we warn women?” Nathanson asked.

Unathi Kamlana, commissioner and information officer at the Financial Sector Conduct Authority, said to shield oneself from romance scams, it was crucial to exercise caution and remain vigilant.

“Beware of profiles that seem overly perfect or match your dreams precisely. Scammers often craft enticing personas to lure victims. Exercise caution if the relationship moves too quickly, with professions of love or promises of a future within a short time.

"Scammers aim to establish trust quickly and use this trust to trick victims into giving them money or confidential information that scammers then use to steal a victim’s money,” Kamlana said.

He advised that before committing to an online relationship, people need to take the time to verify the identity of the person they are interacting with.

“Search their name, photos, or any other information they provide to see if it matches up or if it has been associated with any scam reports. Never share sensitive information, such as your address, financial details, ID or passport number, with someone you have met online.

"Scammers may use this information to commit identity theft or gain unauthorised access to your accounts,” he added.

The police did not comment at the time of publication.


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