Fools for love: fake boyfriends fleecing South Africans
Women are handing over cash to cons at an alarming rate, and the amounts are often huge
“Hallo, I want to know, if I receive a shipment from UK – clothes and money – how much must I pay to have it couriered from the airport in Johannesburg to Mokopane?”
In that one sentence, “Adelaide” told this consumer journalist that she’s joined the long list of women who have fallen victim to the “fake boyfriend” scam.
She’d already paid “fees” of R2,950 to get the fictitious parcel, and had been asked for another R2,500.
Barely 20 minutes after breaking the news to Adelaide that the man she’d been exchanging loved-up e-mails with for months was a conman, I heard from yet another victim.
“Thandi” sent me details of the “parcel” she’d been sent by her “boyfriend” in London, with all the reference numbers.
“Wendy, please check for me and find out if there is any parcel for me ... ”
Yet again, I responded with: “I’m so sorry to tell you that your ‘boyfriend’ is a fraudster. There is no parcel; please do not make payment ... ”
“Yes,” she said, “help – he is busy telling me to go pay ... ”
Clearly, this scam is claiming victims in South Africa at an alarming rate.
Sometimes the amounts are massive.
Having registered on the Badoo dating website, a 40-year-old Cape Town school teacher was contacted by a man calling himself “Alex Wilson” who wooed her with syrupy love “letters” for six months before telling her that he’d hidden £50,000 in a parcel for her.
Her e-mail to me began: “I’m so sad. My fiancé sent me a parcel from the UK. It reached SA immigration services and was withheld because of the UK pounds in the parcel.”
At that point she’d already paid R90,000 to the fraudsters – borrowed from a widowed aunt – and had been asked to pay another R80,000.
I broke the bad news to her on the phone. “I feel sick,” she said, as the truth hit home. “I don’t know how I could be so stupid!”
It’s possible for authentic relationships to develop online; for a couple to fall in love without having met, but con artists have perfected the art of faking a relationship for months in order to gain their victim’s trust, and love, in order to scam them.Umhlanga-based law firm Shepstone & Wylie has also had to be the bearer of bad news to many women about their adoring “boyfriends” or “fiancés”.
Customs consultant Taryn Hunkin said it’s not easy telling these women, who believe they need help with unreasonable “customs officials”, that that’s not their problem.
“Some of them don’t believe me at first; they’re adamant that there’s no way that their man would do that to them,” she said.
In one case, a woman parted with a total of R100,000 to get “two metal trunks” from customs, before Hunkin told her the truth.
“They kept coming up with more and more excuses as to why she needed to pay more money and why she hadn’t yet received the parcel.”
It’s a particularly savage con because of the psychology at play – the women keep paying because they don’t want their previous payments to have been for nothing, and they don’t want to let their boyfriends down.