How do I catch a cheating girlfriend

How our author almost got caught up in a love cheat on the internet

From Agnieszka Dorn

It started with a message on Instagram: "Hello, young, charming, sexy lady, my name is Houston Albert. I was browsing here on Instagram when I stumbled upon your irresistible beauty, please email me." The man in the profile picture looked likable and I answered him. I didn't even dare to dream what developed out of it.

I got into conversation with Houston Albert, an American oil engineer. He was working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. His Instagram profile showed photos and short cell phone videos of work on the oil rig, which was interesting. Houston came from the "Sunshine State" Florida - that's what he called me after a few days: "My sunshine". Typical American mentality, I thought.

We started to write back and forth loosely. And Houston told Albert very quickly about himself: he was widowed and had a 17-year-old daughter named Clara who was going to boarding school in Miami. His wife died of breast cancer. I believed every word he said, but still checked everything he said about his job on the Internet. It was true. I became curious about the man.

Just as quickly as he revealed his life to me, Houston showered me with compliments in crooked German: "Whenever I look at you at how beautiful you are, I feel really very happy that such a beautiful lady is talking to me." Or: "Since I met you here on Instagram, I can't get you out of my head. Whenever I talk to you, I feel like I'm in the world. Your beauty drives me crazy, after everything I see in your photos . " (Houston Albert quotes correspond to the original chat.)

I felt validated. After eight days he confessed to me that he had fallen in love with me and promised to treat me like a queen: "You are the kind of woman I want and if you could give me your heart I promise to treat you like a queen to treat a queen and be happier in every way. " I thought he was a madman in love who hadn't seen a woman on the oil rig for four months. And now was completely over the moon. I never thought of a relationship - I had never seen him before - but I could very well imagine getting to know him personally.

The whole thing got more intense. We switched from Instagram to the messaging service Skype and wrote to each other several times a day, now in English. Skype calls followed, and Houston Albert spoke perfect American English. He sent me more photos of himself, including one with his daughter. We chatted about God and the world. But the caution against a man I had never seen remained. Although I reported on my leisure activities and Houston also knew that I was a journalist (his work was more dangerous, as he said - probably true!). However, I did not reveal anything really private.

The question of what I would find "physically attractive" finally made me sit up and take notice. There are two truisms: Never talk about sex on the internet and don't send pictures that you wouldn't show your mother too. I made my attitude clear to him - and wondered what he was really getting at. He hadn't even asked what city I live in ... That was strange.

The man left no stone unturned to make a relationship palatable for me: In addition to an Ed Sheeran video for the song "Perfect", which at the end shows a couple in love, there were sentences like: "We are no longer children, we know how it sounds when it feels like something serious. " At the same time he said that he could imagine moving in with me, that he would retire early and want to enjoy the rest of his life - with me. The question of where I live still did not arise.

I was beginning to feel uncomfortable at the intrusive pace that had determined the course of our conversation. I was not deterred, wanted to know who I was dealing with and asked for a live video conversation. But that didn't happen: the cell phone camera was broken and the computers on the oil rig were so old that they didn't have a camera.

I found that more than strange and now asked trick questions. During phone calls I casually asked the time in Mexico several times - and calculated the difference to Germany. Houston Albert was discovered: He had given me different times several times. Mexico actually has different time zones - but not on the same oil rig.

I didn't suspect anything good, but I wasn't sure what might be behind it. At the same time, I started researching love fraud on the Internet. And I quickly realized that I wasn't talking to the man in the photos. When I googled his email address, I came across a Google+ account with a photo of a 20-year-old African who had the same email address as Houston Albert. I also discovered different Instagram accounts with exactly the same pictures but different names. I was horrified. I was contacted by a so-called romance or love scammer. A love cheater, then, who fakes great love on the Internet in order to get money or gifts later. The modern marriage swindler of today.

The life story of Houston Albert was fictitious, the photos stolen from the Internet. Behind the scam are gangs and organizations that mainly operate from Nigeria and Ghana; In addition to this so-called "Nigeria Connection", there are now also groups in Turkey and China. And it is mostly women who are targeted by the fraudsters. Personally, the scam was relatively alien to me, all I knew was that there were fraudsters on the Internet and that one should not give out personal information and data.

I immediately broke off contact, blocked it, secured all calls and reported the whole thing to the police. There they confirmed to me what I had already researched on the Internet: I had fallen for a love scammer - at least I was on the best way to get there. Although there had not (yet) been a claim for money, according to Michael Klump, police spokesman at the Mannheim Police Headquarters, it is an attempted fraud under Section 263 of the Criminal Code if someone uses a picture that does not correspond to him. Love scamming is widespread worldwide, but very few people know about this scam and think that they are actually talking to the person they see in the photos. That's not the case.

It went on: A week later I suddenly got an email from a Kelvin Atuyota: "Hi Agnies, how are you? I know you must be very surprised to hear from me, we haven't spoken for a while. " After further research, I found that this was the African who had passed himself off as Houston Albert.

I replied, addressed him by all his false names, told them that I was writing a report about love scamming and wanted to know the background from him. I also made it clear that he would not get any money from me. There was even another answer: "You know what, Agnies, let's be friends. I like you. You're smart and I'm smart. I think we can work things out." After that, I never heard from him again.

Love scammers do the following: they use stolen photos and impersonate the person in the picture; Contact is made via social networks, dating apps or online dating sites. Faked feelings and exaggerated declarations of love like "my sunshine" quickly follow. Most of the time, the scammers pretend to be widowers with one or two children, and the wives are said to have died of cancer or died in a car accident. All of this is meant to arouse pity.

Another feature: the fraudsters find everything good that their chat partner also likes, there should be as many matches as possible so that the victim thinks "it fits". Most of the time they cooperate in groups and take turns writing - if you think you are writing to someone, you are probably wrong. And love scammers like Houston Albert often have two first names.

The fraudsters write and make phone calls several times a day, for a long time. At some point there comes the question of I-Tunes cards, I-Phones or money, bank details or copies of ID cards. Information that is given out during private conversations (marital status, occupation, address) is sold by the scammers to other fraudsters - and already makes money with it.

Another scam: The scammers pretend to have booked a flight to the victim and to have got into "financial distress" on the way there. They ask for money with a promise to pay it back. However, this repayment will never be made and the supposed "dream partner" will not be on the plane either.

It's a tough business with victims' feelings. Anyone who sends revealing photos is blackmailed. Anyone who sends money or gifts ends up on a list that circulates among the fraudsters.

Love scamming has been known for a number of years, the first cases in the USA already existed about ten years ago, explains police spokesman Michael Klump. A significant increase in the number of cases and the sums of damage was registered at the Mannheim police headquarters between 2016 and 2018. From 2017 to 2018 alone, the number doubled, according to Klump. Total damage: several hundred thousand euros.

Prosecution is difficult because the perpetrators are based abroad. In addition, the number of unreported cases is high because many victims are ashamed and do not report the fraud. Those affected can still contact the victim protection coordination of the Mannheim police. Stolen photos that are misused by the scammers can be reported to any office.

I also reported all fake profiles that I found out about "my" scammer, the "ScamHaters United", which are represented on Facebook and Instagram. The organization publishes pirated profiles and photos on the Internet and labels them. There are millions of victims worldwide, according to "ScamHaters". The site receives 1000 new references to fake profiles every day.

Instagram in particular is an Eldorado for love fraudsters, as I discovered in the course of my research. For the most part, reported profiles are not deleted, and the network does not offer any possibility of reporting third-party accounts as "fake accounts". When I asked the Instagram press office about what the social network was doing to protect users from love scammers, I still didn't get an answer. And the fake profiles of "my" love fraudsters reported by me are still active on Instagram.

Interesting too