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“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth. “
– Marcus Aurelius, Medications
What a difference two years can make in a woman’s life — every belief, every opinion I had about life, relationships, and love were all put to the test. The people I once judged, the experiences I thought only happened to strangers, were now happening to me. Who knew that online dating scams are actually a thing?
Two years ago, the man I thought was going to be my companion forever said he wanted a divorce. There were no fights, arguments, or begging: I just let him go. Asking him to stay would have been a fatal blow to the little self-respect I had left. With a bruised ego and a life turned upside down, I realized that now, as a homeschooling mom with a special-needs child, I had to take the responsibility of dividing what took us twenty years of marriage to build and learn to stand on my own two feet. I hit rock-bottom!
Like most women going through separation, divorce, or betrayal, I reached out on social media and started following a single moms group on Instagram. It would be an understatement to say that at that time, I was bitter, depressed, hopeless, and overwhelmed. That hurt and disappointment made me a magnet to every unavailable man: the cheaters, the losers, the players, and ultimately, the scammers. Yes, I started getting dozens and dozens of following requests from men all around the world looking for their “soulmate.” A few were more persistent and they would send private messages introducing themselves.
I lost hope of ever being in a committed relationship. Times have changed and the dating scene was not what I expected. Most of these connections claimed to be military men, deployed to a faraway country, waiting to come home to a good “wife.” I could swear there was a Scamming 101 manual these criminals shared because the script became familiar. They started with, “Hi, pretty!”, asking the same information: my age and status. Most of them were younger than me, but they always said age was just a number. They rarely referred to me by my name, it was always: pretty, honey or baby; they talk about themselves, sharing a tragic story of how they lost their wives and became single dads. The I-lost-my-wife-in-a-car-accident story was the most used.
On day two, I’d receive several daily messages expressing how in love these men were: that they couldn't stop thinking of me and that they love me as they had never loved before. Day three, tragedy strikes. They either get sick, or someone close to them got sick and they are devastated by the news. Day four, the famous ‘can-you help-me-out?’ question. That’s the day they come up with a plan on how you can help, either by sending money, care packages, gift cards… even an iPhone X. Yes, I was asked to send an iPhone X.
As I built virtual walls to protect myself from these opportunists, I became unaware that I had left the door wide open for HIM to enter.
Sharing his name is pointless. They all change names and identities constantly. He was different from the rest. In the beginning, he introduced himself as someone looking for friends around the world to inspire and learn from. He was from Denmark, but due to work had relocated to California. He didn't have a tragic story to tell, he wasn't struggling or in need of help, and he was always optimistic and full of fun stories to share.
Day one, two, three came and went, and he never mentioned anything about love or money. He referred to me by name and was very respectful. Oh, did I mention he was also a Christian? He often asked me if I went to church, and made reference to God in his stories and experiences. We exchanged messages on Instagram for a month before he asked for my phone number. He wanted to talk and get to know me better. He was my first message in the morning and my last call at night: a daily ritual I was addicted to — and he never missed a day. This went on for months. I was craving this kind of attention and he was giving me the emotional support I used to have. He started dropping hints that he wanted to meet me, meet my family, and after five months he confessed his love and wanted to make it official. He would call me by my name but would add his last name, saying he was practising for our future. In hindsight, all the signs were there. I guess I chose to ignore them, just like I did, years before, in my own marriage. But now I was happy, I was hopeful, I was blindsided… and he asked for money. I couldn’t believe it. Why now?
He needed a large sum of money for a project he wanted to manage. Ten thousand dollars, to be exact. As an engineer, he bid for contracts and he needed that sum to be able to go to Switzerland for three months, manage a project and earn almost one million dollars in revenue. I said, “No.” He wouldn't give up begging me to help, that he had only a week to come up with the money and that he would pay me double. I said, “NO!” I stopped replying to his texts.
A week later, he texted me. I admit I was curious to know if he had been able to go to Switzerland, and I answered his call. His behaviour didn’t fit the pattern of what I saw from the other online dating scams. Maybe this was just a coincidence. But that was a big mistake, because now he was more attentive, more affectionate, and still making plans for the future. He understood why I couldn't help and apologized for putting me in that situation. But weeks later, he asked again for money. Now, he needed to pay his nanny that was taking care of his two sons while he worked in Switzerland. This time, he only wanted five hundred dollars. Again, I said no. And this time, I told him that if he asked for money again, I was blocking him for good. A week later, he asked for money.
This time we had a serious conversation. I explained to him that I thought he was part of an online dating scam. He got offended and wanted a chance to prove that he had good intentions for our relationship. Hoping to be proven wrong, wishing that, for once, someone would fight to stay with me, I asked, “If you knew that you would never get a cent from me, would you continue to call me?” He paused. After an awkward silence, the call went dead.
I couldn't believe that for six months, this criminal had the patience and malice to pretend he was Prince Charming when in reality he was the Devil. I blocked his number and swore never to contact him again. Weeks later, I got a text from him using a different number; I didn't respond, and I blocked the number. This went on for a few more days. I would get texts at all hours of the night from unknown numbers. Blocking seemed pointless, so I changed my number.
I have to admit, I carried the scar with shame. I can sleep in peace knowing I didn't give him what he wanted, but I felt foolish for giving him something more valuable: my time and hope. This experience revealed how vulnerable I was: how I lacked self-love, and how I needed to adjust my expectations of what I thought a relationship should be.
You rarely hear about stories like this. Women prefer to suffer in silence than be subjected to judgment and opinions on how stupid they were for falling for someone they have never seen in person.
The internet has become a perfect playground for sweet-talkers with magical spells, who prey on broken hearts and stolen dreams. I engaged in social media thinking I would feel better among women that could relate to my pain. Be aware of who you are letting into your space, mind and heart. Beware of the pictures you post and windows you leave open in your life for leering criminals. Be kind to those who face betrayal. It’s crazy how foolish we can be in search of love, and how mistaken we can be when defining it.