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Johnny, The Scammer

Work has had me researching technology and Internet usage in Nigeria for a few days and the statistics are fascinating. Did you know that Nigerians have as many cell phones as the United States? On top of that, almost no one in Nigeria owns a landline.

It’s no wonder the myth (or stereotype) of the Nigerian email scam is so strong: the country has a strong tie to tech. Funny enough, the real-life scammers are having a bit of a moment. Mother Jones payed scammers to explain their ways while news of a Nigerian “email scam kingpin” getting caught made national headlines. Nigerian tech and scam culture is thriving despite the odds of most tech-savvy people knowing better than to indulge spam-scams.

To confront or indulge the story, BBC has a wonderful tale about a woman who was duped by a Nigerian email scammer named Johnny only to fall in love with him, hunt him down, and meet him. Her name is Maria Grette and her actions weren’t wrapped in a grudge from losing money but from being left alone, from being catfished out of a relationship.

Grette was scammed via a dating website after looking for love after a divorce. She connected with a man who she chatted with on the phone several times and, after some prodding, things got weird but she attributed it all to his being “old fashion.”

“We spent some time writing, then he called from a UK number.”

Ms Grette, who had lived in different countries across Europe, 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 that he was planning for his retirement; had Sweden in mind for a place to settle; owned a house in Denmark inherited from his parents; wanted to leave that to his son, Nick, who was very attached to it, while he looked 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.”

Eventually, the scam was revealed after the man needed money. Instead of crying over spilled coins, Grette sought the man out for an answer because she really, really liked him.

The result is the sort of international rom-com in the making.

He was a 24-year-old Nigerian “419” scammer. He had finished university two years earlier but had no job.

These kind 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”.

[…]

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.”

No, the story doesn’t end with them falling in love (as it would in the movies) but it does end with Grette visiting Nigeria to help scammers through art. The happy ending is that Grette fulfilled her loneliness and the scammers were able to exit the criminal lifestyle by bridging the gap between Europe and Africa.

So, next time you think you’re getting scammed, probe deeper and see if Johnny, The Scammer, is actually someone you can talk to. It might be all you need to make a change in your life.

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