A 62-year-old Swede Maria Grette first discovered that the 58-year-old Danish man with whom she had fallen in love with was actually a 24-year-old Nigerian internet fraudster after some months of internet romancing.
Internet fraud takes different dimensions depending on what works best for the fraudsters but most of them use the ‘internet romance’ method where they pretend to be women to scam old people from other countries.
Here is the story of one of the victims who after she discovered that she was being played by an online fraudster took the bold step of meeting the man who scammed her. Her story was one that took an unexpected turn when the scammer confessed to her about his identity.
A 62-year-old Swede Maria Grette first discovered that the 58-year-old Danish man with whom she had fallen in love with was actually a 24-year-old Nigerian internet fraudster after some months of internet romancing. She was heartbroken but soon, her feelings changed.
“The most terrible thing was not that he had cheated me, but that he had lost his innocence,” she said.
From then on, she wanted to make “a profound need to make a difference to the people of Nigeria”.
How it all started
Gretta who works as an art teacher, painter, and art therapist had gone through a traumatic divorce a few years before and she was beginning to come around once again. Her friends had created a profile for her on an online dating website after teasing her about starting a new relationship.
Gretta didn’t give the website much thought at first, she even ignored notifications that people had contacted her on the website.
“I received messages telling me that people had contacted me, but I never looked at them,” she said.
Then, one day, she did.
“I still don’t know why,” she said. “It was like a sudden impulse happening before I could stop it.”
That particular message was from a man who described himself as a Dane raised in South Carolina, USA; a civil engineer working on a contract in England; a widower with a son in a Manchester university.
They started chatting. Then one day he called her with a UK number.
Grette was surprised that she could not place the man’s accent. She mentioned this to him but didn’t give it too much thought.
He told her he was retiring soon so he had plans on settling down in Sweden. He said he owns a house in Denmark which he inherited from his parents but leaving it to his son, Nick who is very attached to the house. He is looking for a new home for himself in Sweden.
“I wanted to meet him because I liked him,” she said. “He had a way and a sweetness I had never known in a man before. And he was innocent in a way that puzzled me.”
Grette thought that he had “an old-fashioned upbringing and an isolated life – living in hotels and spending his free time on golf courses owing to much travelling”.
After three months of communicating, the man agreed to come over and visit her in Sweden. But before that, he and his son needed to make a quick trip to Nigeria for a job interview, he said.
When Sam (not his real name) and his son got to Heathrow Airport, he called Grette to let her know and she even got to talk to his son Nick.
However, the next time Sam called, he claimed he was in a Lagos hospital. He claimed they had been attacked and his son, Nick was shot in the head and they are without money and papers.
To make matters worse, his bank doesn’t have a branch in Africa, so he was stranded. Meanwhile, the hospital management was requesting €1000 to proceed with treatment.
“Honey, I am in the hospital right now using the doctor´s laptop to send you this message so you can know my situation. Honey, if Nick dies I will also die with him, I have been crying, I wish I could call you, I wish I never came here, I will never forgive myself for bringing Nick along with me. I will call you with the doctor´s phone and send you an email later if I have the chance.
“Honey, I am happy to hear from you and I am still at the hospital. The doctor said we were lucky we were not kidnapped. The bank does not have a location in Africa, so it will take time to get money and the management is requesting 1000 euros to proceed with treatment. Nick is all I have got and I will not forgive myself if anything happens to him. I am confused, and I do not know where to turn at the moment……”
Gretta who didn’t know she was being fooled quickly rushed to the Western Union office trembling while she did the transfer.
“All I could think of was to get the two persons in Nigeria out of danger.”
After that payment, however, Sam kept coming up with different medical complications which means more money and she kept sending until what she describes as ‘coming to her senses’.
She stopped responding to his messages then three weeks later, he called and confessed to her. He told her he was not who she thought he was.
“I said I already knew that. I asked him to tell me his true identity and he did.”
He was a 24-year-old Nigerian “419” scammer. He had finished university two years earlier but had no job.
These kinds of advance fee frauds are known as 419 scams in Nigeria after the section of the Criminal Code which covers fraud.
He further described himself as a “devil” who had wronged “a lovely woman”.
“He said he had never met anyone like me before, that he had been fighting his feelings for me for a long time. He said his scamming mates had warned him about falling in love with a ‘client’, that he had ignored them because he trusted me and did not want to lose contact with me.”
From this point on, their communication took a new turn. There were no further requests for cash.
“The attraction I started feeling was to the person who was revealing himself to me… It was still him, but with a new name and different age and circumstances,” she said.
Johnny sent her a photograph of himself, but Maria was not satisfied with that.
“I wanted to meet him,” she said. “I could not live with this relationship unless it was adjusted to reality in all senses.”
Unable to get him a visa to travel to Sweden, she made up her mind to go to Nigeria.
In October 2009, Grette travelled to Africa for the first time in her life.
“When I saw him at the airport in Abuja, tears fell over his face, and I knew I had known him all my life.”
Grette described her two weeks in Nigeria as blissful, a period during which she and Sam succeeded in transforming their romantic feelings for each other into a good friendship.
She met his friends, many of whom were also scammers. It was while enjoying their company one night in a local bar that she began to wonder how she could make a difference.
“I asked myself what I could do to prevent a situation where healthy, good young men fall into this trap,” she said.
An idea came to her two years later, in 2011, after she saw an article on a Nigerian news website about an art exhibition.
Over the past years, Grette has arranged for a number of African artists to visit Europe for art exhibitions, workshops, conferences, and competitions.
She has assisted them to source international grants and other funding to advance their work.
She has also visited Uganda to give talks on art and is looking forward to another visit to Nigeria scheduled for later this year.
“Sam has given me more than he took,” she said, “Without him, I would not have met Africa.”
When she’d visited him in Abuja, Sam promised Grette that he would give up scamming. With her assistance, he left Nigeria shortly afterward, to study in America.
Although they have not met each other again since she continued to provide him with financial assistance until he completed his degree a few years ago and got a job in the American oil sector.
They still communicate frequently, updating themselves on each other’s lives; and last year, he bought one of her paintings which she shipped over to him in America.
“He is very dear to me,” she said.
“He has asked me so many times to forgive him and I told him that the most important thing is to forgive himself.”
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