Elizabeth Orji was checking notifications on Facebook, something she usually does whenever she was less busy when she noticed a friend request from a handsome fair young man, Echezona Chukwu. She went ahead to check his profile and noticed that she had one mutual friend with him. The profile said he lives in Los Angeles but from one of the Eastern States in the country, a Marine Engineer with a ‘complicated’ relationship.
She accepted his request to be friends and moved on. One week later, she noticed a chat on her Facebook messenger and it was Echezona.
“Hi, how are you, beautiful?” he had dropped a few minutes earlier. She noticed he was still online and she responded to his greeting.
“I saw that you are from Udenu,” he wrote. “One of my good friends in Texas is from there too”.
That pricked Elizabeth’s interest and she asked for the name of his friend and the family he was from.
Though she was not able to recognize the name, that simple act made her trust him and that began a “relationship” journey she regretted ever embarking on.
Echezona will later tell her that he works offshore and sometimes his number won’t be available. He told her how he had lost his wife during childbirth and how his mother in Nigeria was taking care of his daughter who he said was only ten.
By now, the relationships had moved to WhatsApp and calls with the number showing a foreign number.
To build her trust more, Echezona introduced her to his ‘mother’ and ‘daughter’. He gave her his mother’s contact to call her and she started communicating with both the said mother and child.
“One day, the daughter called me crying that the mother had an accident and was unconscious. She told me that they had to take her to a hospital in Jos, Plateau State and the doctor refused to treat her unless a deposit was made.
The daughter said she had been trying to reach her father but couldn’t. She pleaded with me to help her save her grandma. She told me that the doctor was on standby to talk with me,” she narrated.
That week, Echezona had told Elizabeth he was going off shore and won’t be available. She hurriedly informed the daughter to hand the phone to the doctor.
“The doctor informed me that I should bring a deposit of N100,000 before treatment will commence. He told me that the woman is losing a lot of blood and I should act fast. In the background, the daughter was still crying and pleading with her grandma not to die,” Elizabeth narrated.
It was the end of the month and Elizabeth had just received her salary of only N50,000 but she had to save life. She asked for the account number and wired the N50,000, pleading that the doctor commence treatment as she runs around to get more money. Still in panic mode, she rushed out to plead with one of her friends to give her a loan. When her friend heard her story, she told her point blank that she had been scammed.
“I have been there,” her friend said. “Just ask them the hospital they are in and that you will send a friend to come see them and bring the remaining money”.
Elizabeth with disbelief did as she was told and there the story changed. The doctor at first kept threatening her about her would-be-mother inlaw’s state and later, the number was unavailable. The same went for Echezona’s number. He just disappeared.
“I learnt my lesson but after they have duped me of my hard earned N50,000,” she said.
In Ene Ameh’s case, the mother was attacked during a robbery incident in their house. The scammer would have sent money from California where he was but he was having issues with his bank account. He promised to send $1000 to her when he resolved the issue. Ene was ready to part with her money, only she didn’t have any. Well, the story and the relationship ended with insults from the scammer who saw he couldn’t get any money from her.
Many women on Facebook have been scammed using such stories. They are always Marine Engineers, Chemical Engineers or having any jobs that will take them off shore. They can also claim to be a doctor who is always running shifts in the hospital or they can be in the military. They always live either in the United Kingdom or the United States of America, they have a mother and a daughter in Nigeria and later, a doctor and a nurse are introduced in the equation. And finally, they fall in love fast and want to settle down.
Romance scam occurs when a criminal adopts a fake online identity to gain a victim’s affection and trust with the aim of manipulating and/or stealing from the victim. According to a BBC report about 63 percent of women fall victim to romance scam. Below are a few great tips for protecting yourself from romance scammers.
- Check how many mutual friends you share with an account before accepting a friend request. It might be fun to meet new Facebook friends but such strangers sometimes turn out to be scammers.
- Study the profile of the person sending you a friend’s request. Be wary if they have similar profiles like that of Echezona.
- Do a reverse google search of the profile picture. Many scammers use the same picture with different names to scam their victims. Take their pictures and use the search engines and free programs to trace the origin of the image, as well as other places it has been posted.
- Be careful what you share on Facebook. Make sure your email, phone number, and other forms of private contact are kept hidden. Many people don’t have the right privacy settings enabled, so they are discovered quite easily by scammers.
- Do a background check on the person you are in a relationship with on Facebook. Ask questions about him and verify from people from the community he says he is from.
- Do not send money to anyone online. You can refer them to other places for help.
- Finally, when in doubt, ask a reliable friend or family member for a second opinion because when you are emotionally connected to someone, it is really hard to come to the realization that they are not who you think they are.