A US engineer whose online claims didn’t turn out to be true have left a Gothenburg woman out of pocket and brokenhearted, and one of dozens of Swedish women who have fallen victim to an increasingly common online dating scam.
Sara, a 37-year-old woman from Gothenburg, thought she was in love with a US engineer based in New York.
After she came into contact with the smooth-talking man on popular Swedish dating site HappyPancake, she fell head over heels for his sweet messages and constant emails.
Even though the man refused to show his face online and didn’t speak with an American accent, she didn’t even consider that the engineer who had stolen her heart was actually building a trap.
“He was really romantic compared to Swedish men. I woke up every morning with a message from him saying ‘Hello sweety, missing you’ or ‘Thinking of you’. And he signed off every mail with ‘Yours forever’,” Sara told the Expressen newspaper.
She even sent him 2,000 kronor ($312) when he claimed his credit cards wouldn’t work and was in need of cash quickly.
When the pair finally decided to meet in Stockholm, Sara booked a hotel room and was excited to finally meet her mystery man.
He had even sent a copy of his flight ticket, with the departure location marked as Lagos, Nigeria. He claimed he was building a luxury hotel in the west-African city.
When the day of the flight came, the conman told the Swede that he had got stuck at the airport and needed 13,000 kronor to pay his Basic Travel Allowance before he was allowed to fly.
Sara rushed to the bank, but was refused a loan.
Her online lover told her he could wait until the next day, while the woman found a way to lend him the money. However, the Swedish woman instead did some research into the Basic Travel Allowance and found that all signs pointed to a scam.
Websites warned that a BTA was a made-up term used by scammers and fraudsters trying to squeeze money out of desperate victims.
“It was like someone poured a bucket of cold water over me,” she said.
“I felt completely abused. I’d even sent pictures and shared my thoughts and dreams. Now I realized that the man in the pictures had nothing to do with it and that I had fallen for a Nigerian fraud.”
While Sara may have only lost 2,000 kronor, some dignity, and a potential American husband, she is not the only person to have come in contact with a heartbreaking hoaxer.
Swedish dating site HappyPancake has since warned users of the risks involved with online dating.
“We’re giving even clearer information and are warning for such instances of fraud. We are going to make a new menu tab that we’ll label ‘safety’,” Sebastian Malmberg, head of marketing at HappyPancake, told the paper.
In fact, the trend of fraudsters claiming to be US soldiers is becoming so popular that the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command has issued a warning.
“Army CID is warning anyone who is involved in online dating to proceed with caution when corresponding with persons claiming to be US Soldiers currently serving in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere,” they wrote on their website.
The Command claims to receive hundreds of reports each month from people who have met fictitious soldiers from legitimate dating websites.
They warn to be extremely suspicious at all times, to never send money, and to be highly cautious of anyone who “who pledges their love at warp speed”.
The Command also adds to look for common grammar and spelling errors as this can be a clear sign that the person is not a native speaker.
Back in Gothenburg, Sara herself can only warn other love-struck Swedes to be more cautious that she was.
“I want to warn others. If you meet a foreign person on a dating website you should look them up, ask them for a telephone number and contact details,” she told Expressen.
“Words like BTA or Nigeria should ring alarm bells. And it’s important to have a web camera when you’re chatting.”