Having spent four years in Nigeria as a teenager, I'm no stranger to the scams, con artists and hustlers who make up a disproportionate amount of the criminal element. I remember my parents' friends belying tails of thievery and murder, warning you to never stop when driving across certain bridges at night even if there was a body lying in the middle of the road. A typical ruse: once stopped, a band of armed men would leap into action, kill the passengers and steal the car.
My mother would regale me in tears with gory bedtime stories of a woman whose husband passed away, leaving her and her daughter his fortune... that is, until the ex-wife and her children showed up to ransack the house, steal his possessions and kill his wife and daughter. A typical Nigerian phrase that was bandied about the time: "A thief would sell his own mother for money."
Summed up: The perception many people had of Nigeria's greedy underbelly left a lasting impression upon my young psyche.
That was the late '80s, and today, 20-odd years later, it seems the Nigerian criminal element has taken their show on the road. Having done numerous radio shows with Albert Butler, a radio personality on 900am Wurd and a model in Philadelphia, I wasn't surprised when he reached out to warn the public of his latest battle.
Every Wednesday for a year, we informed the public on issues of love on his special edition of the show 'Relationship Wednesdays.' An incredibly talented and entertaining personality, his looks are more suited to TV than radio, and it is this handsome mug that has led him to be exploited by a new type of hustling: the Nigerian Dating Scam.
Unfortunately, both men and women are victims of this scam, and some might not even be aware they are in the midst of getting conned. A familiar pattern arises that everyone who is dating online should be aware of: You just signed up for an online dating site and as you peruse the profiles looking for love, you come across a very good-looking African-American male or female whose Christian values and kind words spark a flame in your heart.
After reaching out to them, they usually want to leave the dating site and use their personal e-mail or IM to communicate. They will claim to be from the U.S. but are currently working/living/stationed overseas, and within a very short amount of time, they will profess their undying love for you. Some of these scammers will secure your trust through intimate conversation, while others will spend months passionately wooing you, spinning a web of lies that inevitably ends in their asking you to wire money.
There is always an urgent need for money, with the caveat that it will be paid back once a big business deal goes through. Whether they need it to come and see you; for hospital bills for a sick child or relative; for visas or other documents; or just to help in recovering from a financial setback, the reasons are varied, but always end with the same message: "Give me your money."
Some scammers will even make wedding plans, asking that their victims do them a favor by making a purchase online or forwarding a package to a foreign country. Unfortunately, the picture of the man you see has been stolen off the Internet, as is the case with Albert Butler's headshot, and is being used in a global Internet con. All of these scams end in heartbreak when the victim unwittingly sends money and never hears from their online love again.
Some of you may be wondering how anyone could be fooled by the likes of an online dating scammer, but in a world in which love and emotional connection are the desired want, it's almost too easy to believe the lies a con artist will spin.
Mike Connor (aka) Andrew Gerald Connor, Shielu Fatai, Gerald Darren, Faithislove12 -- the aliases change, but the con remains the same. As I read through the many letters these hustlers have sent, I can hear the old question being asked in a thick Nigerian accent, "Ah Ah! Whot are you going to do far me O!"
Whether he claims to be a lonely widower, or professes you are the answer to his heart, the scammer is very smooth and acts like he cares, but his only intention is to part you and your money. The best way to protect yourself is to research the names of the men and women you meet, and never, ever, under any circumstance, send money. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, so do the work to make sure this person is actually who they claim to be.
As for the real Albert Butler, if you cross paths, offer him your support. He is just as much a victim in this as you.