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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

U.S. Embassy on Russian Internet Dating Scams

*update I removed the links to the original post because the original post keeps moving every few weeks*

From the US Embassy in Moscow:

The growing popularity of Internet romance has led to the growth of fraudulent online activity in Russia directed at Americans and others outside Russia. The United States Embassy in Moscow is receiving increasing numbers of complaints from American citizens who have been lured into online relationships via false internet profiles. Often, these are men pretending to be women who make contact with Americans – usually men – over the Internet through dating websites or chat rooms. The fictitious person then seeks to create a virtual relationship through the exchange of photos and e-mails. At some point s/he begins to ask for money, frequently asking that it be transferred through wire services. S/he commonly states that the money is needed to help resolve a family tragedy or arrange for a trip to the United States. A copy of a fraudulent U.S. visa is sometimes attached to prove good intentions. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow urges Americans to exercise caution – many U.S. citizens have lost hundreds, and even thousands, of dollars.

There are common factors in these Internet scams. Scammers usually misinform the Americans about travel expenses and/or they inflate the cost of the expenses that do exist. They lure the American in with e-mails, pictures, phone calls, fake visas, and even e-mails from fake travel agencies in an attempt to prove their good intentions. Typically, something happens and they "can't leave the country." They either "are hospitalized for an injury" and a "member of the family" contacts the American citizen requesting money, or a "member of the family" needs an emergency operation and needs money. Sometimes they are stuck at the airport and are not allowed to board until they can show they have a certain amount of dollars to cover their expenses while in the U.S. Some claim to have been robbed of the money that was sent or claim that they are detained at the airport. Again, their purpose is not to immigrate to the U.S., but to get as much money as possible from the victim. Most of these scammers are actually men who are paying women a minimal fee to sit and pose for pictures and pick up the money at an office of a money transfer agency.

Please keep in mind that, while the U.S. Embassy in Moscow does not have the authorization to initiate investigations of these scams, the Fraud Prevention Unit can verify the authenticity of any U.S. visa via e-mail at FPMM@state.gov.

FAQs to Russian Internet Dating Scams

Based upon previous inquiries, the Embassy has created a list of Frequently-Asked-Questions (FAQs) with answers.

1. I’ve heard a lot about Internet dating scams involving Russian women. I would like to know whether the woman I have met is for real, but all I have is her name and photo. Is this enough to find out if she exists?
Unfortunately, the U.S. Embassy cannot verify the identity of Russian women. Russia has strict laws protecting the distribution of information about Russian citizens. The embassy has information on foreign citizens only if a person has actually applied for services from the U.S. government.

2. Can you tell me whether this visa is genuine or if this woman has applied for a visa?
If you would like to verify whether someone has received a visa, you may contact us at fpmm@state.gov.

3. I’ve heard there are blacklists of women who are known Internet dating scammers. Does the U.S. Embassy have a blacklist? Where do I find a blacklist?
Although the U.S. Embassy does not maintain such a list, there are many Internet “blacklist” websites, where victims of scams have placed information and identities of people who have defrauded them. It may be helpful to perform an Internet search for such sites.

4. I think I have been scammed. I have sent this woman $2,000.00 and now I find out her visa is a fake. How do I get my money back?
We regret that the U.S. Embassy has no way of obtaining your money for you. We suggest contacting the money transfer agency or your credit card company to ascertain their policies in such cases.

5. I want to lodge a complaint with the Russian government and the U.S. authorities about being scammed. Can the U.S. Embassy help me? Who do I contact?
Because the U.S. Embassy is a diplomatic mission and not a law enforcement agency, you will need to go through the appropriate law enforcement channels, should you believe you are a victim of fraud. You may contact law enforcement authorities in your area. You may also visit the Internet Fraud Complaint Center hosted by the FBI at http://www.ifccfbi.gov/ in order to file a complaint. For information on contacting law enforcement officials in Russia, you may try contacting the Russian Embassy in the United States at: www.russianembassy.org.

6. My Russian girlfriend wants to come visit me but says that she must purchase insurance and have $300.00 in cash to show she can afford to travel. How much money are Russians required to show?
To receive a U.S. non-immigrant visa, applicants are not required to show cash or proof of insurance for travel. For more information on the visa application process and requirements, please visit our website.

7. The woman I’m writing to says that she needs $1,000.00 to show for "pocket" money” or the airline won’t let her board the plane. Is this true?
There are no Russian or American customs or airline regulations requiring travelers show proof of income or “pocket money” to travel to the United States.

8. I would like to bring my Russian girlfriend to the United States to visit and she says I must wire her the money for a ticket. I don’t want to send it directly to her. If I send the money to the Embassy, can you buy the ticket for her? Can you recommend a travel agency I can send the money and have them buy the ticket?
The embassy cannot suggest or verify the validity of private companies or organizations within Russia, nor can the embassy purchase tickets. Tickets can easily be purchased in the United States directly from the air carriers for Russian citizens. In addition, applicants are NOT required to have a ticket prior to the visa interview. In fact, applicants are counseled NOT to by tickets or make arrangements until they have the visa in hand. Scammers will cite fictitious American or Russian regulations requiring that the tickets be purchased in Russia with cash in order to get the cash sent overseas.

9. My girlfriend says that she must go to a tour agency and pay $500 for her visa application and visa, and it will take 2 months. Is this right? What is the procedure for Russians to get a tourist visa?
All visa applications are submitted to a Russian courier service – Pony Express – for delivery to the Embassy. The U.S. government charges a processing fee of $100 for each application. The courier service charges a delivery/handling fee. However, there are no additional fees, nor any requirements to show traveling money. For information on how to apply for a visa, please visit http://moscow.usembassy.gov.
Once an applicant submits their application, they are immediately scheduled for an appointment to appear for an interview within the following 10 days (or within 21 days during peak travel seasons). At the appointment at the Embassy, the applicant is interviewed by an American Consular officer and is immediately told whether he or she is eligible for the visa. If the decision is positive, the visa is sent to the applicant within 72 hours through Pony Express.
For more information about the Russian internet scams, please view the Department of State’s Public Announcement on these scams at: www.travel.state.gov/travel/rid.html.


Anonymous said...

The russian scammers are not confining themselves to the "mail order bride" market. Match.com seems so overrun with them that after only two weeks of a six month subscription I regret it.

The very first e-mail I got was from a "woman" with no photo whose ad claimed "she" lived in Hoboken, New Jersey - just across the river from my hometown of NYC. The profile also included what was supposedly "her" own personal e-mail address. I tried communicating first with "her" via match - but found that the profile couldn't be located. So I used the private e-mail address, asking that "she" tell me a little more about "herself" and to send a picture. I got a reply - the person who had an ad saying "she" lived in Hoboken actually lived in some small town in Russia, she was a doctor, but her family had all moved away or died, she hated Russian men, loved American men and blah blah blah. I quite nicely told her that I was not looking to import a wife; that I was looking to meet someone geographically proximate and date her casually before getting into anything serious. What got my antennae up was "her" response to this - it was as if "she" hadn't even read my last e-mail. First, "she" failed to even acknowledge that "she" was 5,000 miles off on identifying where "she" lived. And then there was more suggestive stuff - all sorts of stuff about "her" sexual persona that I had never even asked about - and two photographs of what seemed to be a fairly attractive woman which by now I was no longer asking for.

Ten days later, I checked out a woman who had a pretty unimpressive verbal profile but - heck (I'll admit) the pic was nice. The "woman" by the way, claimed to live in Brooklyn, was a model, and that "she" was originally from Idaho. Here's what I got in response: (1) the e-mail was lengthy but in incredibly broken English; (2) the "woman" who said "she" was a model now said she was in the business of traveling abroad to buy antiques; (3) the Idaho native now was a graduate of Western Kentucky University - where her "mom" was supposedly from; (4) the e-mail asked me basic questions about myself, almost all of which could have been answered had the "woman" bothered to read the profile I HAD ATTACHED TO MY E-MAIL; AND (here's where I realize this is an epidemic) the e-mail was - virtually word-for-word - IDENTICAL to another unsolicited e-mail I got from someone who claimed to live in Alabama (with a different name and photo, of course) just a few days earlier - right down to the broken English, the typos, and the traveling-to-Africa-to-buy-antiques shtick (well the Alabama "woman" claimed to have gone to Oxford instead of Western Kentucky, but "mom" was from both places!) Anyway - by now I wanted to tease out the scam a little more without endangering myself. I replied to this "Idaho-via-Kentucky" provocateur with an e-mail containing feinted amazement about this transcontinental and now intercontinental odyssey - and how "she" managed to collect antiques while modeling. I guess that was too much for whoever it was on the other end of the screen.

Point is, I wanted to both stress that obviously some sort of foreign scam is well entrenched on mainstream dating sites where I suspect the vast majority of subscribers aren't even giving a thought to a foreign marriage - as well as to warn any other match.com subscribers about these sorts of "e-mails".

Anonymous said...

i have found out that match.com has alot of scammers on the site,
it does not take a detective too figure out what is doing on!!!!!
bewear of women from south africa!!
i just busted about ten of them!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi..,I have been contacted by women who state that they live in the U.S. yet they provide a rambler.ru e-mail address. Can anyone give me any info here?

E said...

They are Russian scammers. My blog is filled with rambler.ru addresses.

Anonymous said...

Americansingles.com is also crawling with scammers. I received instant messages from five profiles with no photos all asking that I reply to same e-mail address, kittymity06@yahoo.com. I engaged with two of these under different names. I received same letters from both with photos of different girls coming form the same IP address. They both eventually asked for money for flight tickets.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Hi to everyone...You are correct, appartently these russian women use alot of fake names and fake photos. Mind you these are some beautiful looking women, just to lure us saps to engage in conversation. Beware of one annakaty or devyshkakrasaviza, these are some pretty good looking women...Thanks for all the info...

Anonymous said...

Months ago, after finally realizing I was being scammed out of money by some Boris in Russia, I started e-mailing the woman(?) from another e-mail address, disguising myself as a rich American manufacturer whose grandmother was Russian. I told her I was incredibly wealthy, loved Russian women, money was no object, I would send her $5,000 to help her life. I noticed that all of the e-mails she was sending the rich guy were the exact same ones she was sending me (same pictures too). After working my own scam for a few days, I mooned the digital camera and sent her(?) a picture of my hairy, naked butt from the rich guy and me. I got the nastiest e-mail back, saying all American men are pigs, etc. However, my parents, brothers, and friends all got a big kick out of it and I got my revenge.
Advice...e-mail any Russian woman from another e-mail account and see if you get form letters from her. If she is writing form letters, she is not interested in you, and is probably a man.

Anonymous said...

Hello All,

I have also been contacted by rambler.ru adddress. After a week of correspondence and beautiful pics..an attempt was made to secure funds for airfare.
Just be aware!

Anonymous said...

Google earth can be helpful in identifying wether or not Information you are recieving is accurate.In photos there is lots of info. on the periphery.Play hard-ball,you get here and we will have the time of our lives.

Anonymous said...

Just use a reputable Dating Agency, where all women have current, verified contact info (the copy of passport is requested when every woman is registered).

Anonymous said...

These online dating scams are no longer limited to Russia only. Alot of scams are coming from Nigeria now. Here are a few more scams that I'm aware of:

- Young, up and coming "model" (or actress; usually a "beautiful" profession) in her early to late 20's is visiting a country such as [South] Africa (Africa is commonly used for this scam) for a photo shoot/acting job but is robbed and has no more money to get home. "She" cannot pay her hotel bill now so the hotel manager confiscated her passport and airfare and will hold it until she can fully pay off the hotel bill. In most cases, the person will ask for a small amount first - maybe a few hundred dollars - to pay for the "hotel bill" but then will insist that you send several thousand for airfare/pocket money home.

- "Girl" claims to be the daughter of a wealthy government official and her entire family was murdered "in cold blood" and leaves behind a fortune that she cannot access because she is living at a refugee camp in Senegal/West Africa/Ivory Coast. The person claims to be quite fond of you and will then ask you for money so that she can leave the refugee camp and collect her father's money... which she claims to share with you.

- Model/actress who gets hurt in another country (usually Australia or Europe) and needs you to send money for medical bills. Some variants of this scam also has the person asking you for money because s/he is financially broke until their next paycheck and that they promise they'll pay you back or fly to where you are in hopes of starting a serious relationship. Person will also act affectionate to you during correspondence to build your trust. Soon they will claim to get into an accident and will ask for money.

Anonymous said...

Scam, Wants money for visa / travel
Mihail Urmanov,
Zenitnaya street 4-228
Izhevsk, Russian Federation, 426076

Uses different names!