Internet Dating and Romance Scams

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Nigerian scammers target local investigator

374 victims were conned out of more than $1 million, Colorado AG office claims

Imagine being part of an international romance scam that’s bilking hundreds of people out of

money. The worst part? You have no idea your face is being used to con people you’ve never

met.

That’s what happened to retired Elkhart police detective Brett Coppins, now a private

investigator who runs Coppins Investigative and Security Group.  According to the Colorado

Attorney General’s office, a “Nigerian Internet Romance Scam” used photographs of United

States Armed Forces members on online dating websites and social networking sites such as

Facebook to defraud 374 victims from 38 states in the United States and 40 countries around

the world out of more than $1 million.

Coppins said his first thought that something wasn’t right came shortly after December 2010,

when he returned home from a stint in Iraq, where he worked as a civilian for the U.S.

Defense Department. That’s when he received a Facebook message from a woman he’d never met.

“She said it had been going on for months and she was madly in love with this guy and

absolutely devastated that it was all a scam,” he recalled.

Part of the message read: I’m not here to start trouble. I fell so hard for you.  I needed

to find you. Now that I have, it still hurts. 

After at least 10 more messages from women he didn’t know, including one who used facial

recognition software to track him down, Coppins realized someone used pictures of him from

Facebook, Linked-In and other websites to build a phony online dating profile.

“That was kind of the first indicator that these women had really been devastated, just

taken advantage of emotionally,” Coppins said.

That’s when he decided to put on his investigator hat. Through Facebook correspondence with

some of the women who’d contacted him and using other resources, he realized part of what

was happening.

“My understanding is they would look to see if these women were making comments about being

recently widowed or things like that and they would send emails to them, personal emails,

pretending to be wanting to build a relationship with them,” Coppins explained.

The man those women believed they were talking to online went by the name of Ronald Raines,

and used photographs of Coppins. In reality, according to a 27-page indictment from the

Colorado Attorney General, Ronald Raines’ online profile and several others that used

photographs of U.S. military members were being manned by scam artists in Nigeria who were

also working with a mother and daughter from Brighton, Colorado, a city outside Denver.

“After an on-line relationship was established, the perpetrator would often send the victim

fake military documents and personal photographs in order to convince the victim that they

were truly a member of the U.S. military serving in a foreign country, usually Afghanistan,”

the indictment reads.

According to court documents, the perpetrator would then begin asking the victim to send

money to an “agent” in Colorado via Western Union or Money Gram.

Those “agents” were the 73 and 40-year-old Colorado women. Court documents also allege the

40-year-old frequently used her 16-year-old daughter to both send and receive wires

containing stolen money. Then, according to the indictment, the women would keep 10 percent

of the money and send the rest to Nigeria, Ecuador, Great Britain, India, United Arab

Emirates and the United States.

The scam had allegedly been in operation since 2009. The women are facing felony charges of

violating the Colorado Orgainized Crime Control Act including theft, money laundering,

forgery, identity theft and criminal impersonation.  They each face life in prison if

convicted.

Coppins believes his photographs were taken by friends of African men he met during his time

in Iraq then became friends with on Facebook. Even though his photo was one of many used in

the scam, Coppins maintains he’s not a victim.

“You could tell [the women who contacted me] were really struggling and it was pretty

difficult for me to sometimes deal with emotionally, knowing that my pictures, my

photographs were being used to do something that really hurt some people,” he said.

When asked how people who have Facebook, Linked-In and other social networking profiles can

protect themselves from falling victim to something similar, Coppins suggested using the

maximum security settings on those networking websites to keep your photographs private and

“Googling yourself,” or putting your name into search engines every once in a while to see

what comes up.

“Welcome to the 21st Century. This is the world that we live in and it’s difficult,” he

added. “Facebook is one of those things where people  just don’t take time to lock down.

What they don’t realize is that those photos can go anywhere and everywhere.”

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June 27, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

2 Comments »

  1. I was deceived by ramance scam who said my name was Evan Poe. and he put picture on his information celebrity in America(Jeff Timmous). I believed he is him(on picture) in beginning. because I did not know Jeff is American star. I sent money total about $ 2900 to fraud(Evan Poe) via H.I.S in Japan. I was so stupid and so regretting… I am single mother and I do not enough money for our living. now I got depression and car accident for that,I can not work hard a while.. please help us. We never allow such a fraud who must be kill our life.

    Jun Tsubono,
    Japan,

    Comment by Jun Tsubono | July 30, 2012 | Reply

  2. Hi, I am Pat, 52 yrs old now. I have been scammed several times. I should have learned by the first time. I am on social seceraty, disability, can’t afford to much and don’t have a car to get around. I am trying to save up for one. I lost about everything because of 2 men. One by the name of Clark Morries and the oher one Charles Ellison. Clark and Charles I met on Seniormeet.com. Both very good looking me, at least the profile pics they put up were. I am so scared now that when I get something out of Nigeria, where Clark was or still is, I have it immeditly put on block.

    Comment by Patricia Timm | January 20, 2013 | Reply


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