“Trafficked with Mariana van Zeller: The Dangers of Romance Scams (Full Episode)” – Video

“Trafficked with Mariana van Zeller: The Dangers of Romance Scams (Full Episode)” – Video

In this full episode of Trafficked with Mariana van Zeller, National Geographic dives into the world of romance scams, a global crime wave that surged during the loneliest months of the pandemic, wiping out more than $300 million from American bank accounts in 2020. The episode follows Mariana as she tracks down tenacious sweet talkers halfway across the globe, learns how they’ve perfected their insidious one-two punch to steal hearts and take money, and sheds light on the increasing ease with online dating and its connection to the rise of romance scams. The episode also delves into the high-profile case of US law enforcement charging six alleged ring leaders of a massive cyber criminal enterprise based in Ghana, shedding light on how the country has become a hotbed for romance scammers. Viewers will also get a glimpse into the music scene in Ghana, with a story about a lady who uses her appearance to reel people in and scam them, highlighting the prevalence of scamming in the country. This episode provides a 360-degree view of the trafficking world, from the perspective of the smugglers, law enforcement, and those caught in the crossfire. Get ready to be immersed in the dangerous and complex inner-workings of the global underworld and black and informal markets in this eye-opening episode of Trafficked with Mariana van Zeller.

Watch the video by National Geographic

Video Transcript

Love he was my life outside of work everything he said was just so sweet I just want to hug him and have him hold me like I just want to hug him so bad every single day he was saying something that would touch my Heart I was like a fish that hook was so far down in my belly he’s an evil bastard he is such an evil bastard I sold jewelry I sold Investments I gave him $2.8 million romance scamming a global crime wave that surged during our loneliest months of the pandemic wiping out more

Than $300 million from American bank accounts in 2020 hello babies can have is to find out where some of that money went we’ll track down these tenacious Sweet Talkers Halfway Around the Globe how much money has Michael sent you so far more than 10K more than $10,000 and learn how they’ve perfected their

Insidious one to punch before taking your money Z Steal Your Heart it’s so part of and sometimes love heads So we right right right right right yep okay Sun drenched Florida with all its wealth and retirees it’s what you might call a Target Rich environment for romance scammers okay if you want to put on your glasses just in case oh we ready camera speed okay we

Rolling I’ve never been married but I’ve dated and I just kind of felt like I wanted to finally meet somebody after Lou died I I couldn’t sleep well you know after a divorce you’re feeling very lonely I thought you know if I’m going to try marriage I better get going

Because I’m 68 years old so I signed up on Facebook dating and a half hour after I signed up um I met Damian he says he lives just the next city over he’s an orthopedic surgeon and we’re the same age he tells Susan he’s on a 4-month un

Peacekeeping mission in Yemen from his photos he’s fit and slightly graying he’s very handsome he’s very flirty I thought okay I can flirt this is fun he tells me I’m really extremely grateful for having you in my life spending time with me drowns out all of the other

Concerns and lights of my life oh wow let’s see is this your Journal that you kept all the conversations you had I wrote everything down so you were keeping a journal of what you thought was possible relationship that you’re going to have with this right my heart really was overtaking my brain

Completely um I thought about him constantly every time the little ding ding on Google Hangouts grab my phone when Eric and I started writing it filled up that hole he listened to me it was a great healing thing for me he was just so romantic he’d write me love

Poems every single day he was feeling that void in my heart that was my broken heart he is completely and totally crazy about me and wants to be with me every single day it’s like who doesn’t want that but only 2 weeks later she senses trouble I wake

Up Monday morning and there’s no videos no quotes there’s nothing so I sent him a message I don’t know why I haven’t heard from you you I hope you’re okay and I have been stressing now the entire day is he alive is he dead I I don’t know the following morning Susan finally

Gets a message that begins with six crying emojis he said to me we were under attack there were guys that came into the compound uh one guy was shot I really want to get out of this place I’m scared for my life he then tells tells me some of his colleagues paid their

Contract off and he said I can pay him $30,000 and I can then go home you know you and I are a couple were in this together he said I thought if maybe you could pay half he goes that would be great it’s so embarrassing that it was close to 300 $1,000

$1,876 $2.8 million more than 6,400 Americans say they were scammed after visiting dating websites the rise of romance scams and our increasing ease with online dating go handin hand more than 44 million Americans went on dating sites last year giving scammers plenty to work With but victims are also being targeted on social media a 69-year-old Sarasota woman will soon lose her house after falling victim to an online dating scam the median loss of a victim in 2020 was $2,500 but for victims 70 and older it was nearly 10 grand with arrests rare and recovering

Money practically unheard of romance scammers operate with near impunity but every so often there’s a high-profile butt that provides a window into this murky underworld earlier this year in a case that’s still pending US law enforcement charged six alleged ring leaders of a massive cyber criminal Enterprise that

Included romance scaming based in the West African country of Ghana Ghana is booming its economy is one of the fastest growing in the world big name companies like Google and Twitter are planting headquarters here to take advantage of an English-speaking population that’s young techy and ambitious but those same traits have

Also made Ghana a hot bed for romance scammers that’s why I’ve come to rack them down and to understand how they’ve turned online seduction into a thriving criminal industry one that’s even made its way into the country’s music scene okay what was the music video you’re

Shooting here what is it about oh it’s a story about a lady who is very beautiful that uh kind of like uses her appearance to real people online meet boss bouncy The Man Behind the song Ghana scammer she make you fall too deep in love and

Kind of like dup you and then take up your money so she’s a gold digger and a scammer yeah yeah it’s not good is scamming big in Ghana oh I think it’s been in the news it’s been on the radio it’s been on online so yeah so would you

Be able to you think introduce us to some people that you know or is that not something you feel comfortable with no I don’t think people will really feel comfortable telling you they know someone that’s coming that’s the hon honest truth that I can tell you but

Before I leave boss bouncy offers a little tip he tells me when scammers get paid they like to celebrate have a few Drinks hi good evening you work here the clubs and pool halls of arra Ghana’s Capital do you mind if I just go up the stairs and see and then I come down could be the perfect places to hear things that shouldn’t be Heard okay here’s our guy here’s our guy the guy that’s going to stop and tell me hi okay so you’re the man to know here I just going Street something just pass you I know and I practically stopped you after a bit of hustle I finally meet a

Guy who says he can help I’ll call one of the guys awesome then we I’ll text you later in the night I get a message telling me to go to a certain address and to talk to the men playing pool hi hi so I know you don’t want me to

Call you by your real name so what should we call you you can call me Odo Odo and what does that mean it means love love yeah so um you know why we’re here yeah yeah can you tell me a little bit what you do I do the romance come here

So how many women have you scammed more than 22 men I’ve scam people from the states people from Canada people from Germany Poland Singapore finally I found a Scammer what was your first fake name Morris Jackson Morris Jackson yeah I started way back um let me see in the year 2008 I’m in a Ghana one of the epicenters of romance scamming this man Odo tells me he was introduced to scamming by a friend and instantly saw

Success I was talking to white woman she was from um Canada I wasn’t using my I was using one model pretending it was you yeah he’s a very handsome guy any woman that will see that guys picture will fall in love with him the story Odo fake is a favorite of romance

Scammers work sent him to Ghana but since no one took American Express here he couldn’t buy anything and needed cash to be like how much do you need the moment she commits by sending money for the first time that means she’s a very good client client that’s what they call

Victims and so the first time you ever received money was $300 from that Canadian yeah and how much money do you think you’ve made from this more than $30,000 out of that wow yeah I was Shing about five CLI at the same time it’s all

Like a script so I just copy and paste to them these are scripts they scripts yeah buy you buy them yeah I buy them these scripts are almost like Choose Your Own Adventure books except the scammer chooses your adventure the Romantic plot you’ll follow based on the

Answers you give and the type of person he thinks you are I wanted a person to travel with he he loved doing that he wanted to show me the world he was going to be leaving for about a months to go to to the Far East to move hardwood

Trees from Malaysia to India normally when we start I just have to pretend I see I’m from the state but I will move in the next two three weeks to West Africa it will be like um that would be um you have to yeah are you okay talking with people

Coming in he’s taking a risk speaking with me the wrong person listening could mean trouble got a little nervous because there are people looking I could see your eyes you were nervous about who got in and what they’re listening yeah those two guys that enter that I don’t

Know I’m putting so much R into what I’m doing I have a boss he’s a very rich person he has a lot of boys working for him really and what do you pay him a percentage of what you make the boys go online find clients when they get to

Know we have good clients we push it to him and then he recover W this is news to me I’d assume romance scammers worked as lone wolves but he tells me it’s more like a pack with an experienced boss who knows how to go in for the kill he’s like a

Finisher he’s the person that finishes it’s the finisher who often writes the scripts and takes over the transaction once they’re victim is ready to pay only a small percentage goes to Frontline scammers like Odo do you think I could meet a finisher they would’t why they

Won’t they will never do what I’m doing so you wouldn’t be able to talk to your boss The Finisher about me right because that would put you in danger Yeah [Applause] okay so this person is still in the game he’s still scamming he’s still in the game I’m driving with a local journalist who’s been reporting on the scams for years he’s putting me in touch with a scammer he knows in Kumasi about 150 mi from Acra he says the dangers Odo

Mentioned are real that’s why he doesn’t want his identity revealed talk about scamming in Ghana it’s it’s huge so any attempt by anyone to want to you know unravel anything get insight you could be putting your life at risk tell me more about the person we

Meeting right so um he goes by the name of the Punisher and The Punisher The Punisher he has this one other person you know he works with he told me that there’s a place that actually went out um whenever they have to have a video with a client

You know he’s quite Secret in his dealings they get worried trying to protect their business I have no idea what to expect as I walk up the stairs of this upscale apartment building but instead of the Armed men and pat down that I’m used to I’m invited into a living room sweetheart I

Can’t see you oh there you are oh where it looks like a romance scam is in full swing so beautiful thank You he’s going to fix it on 60 minutes ago are you calling somebody what if they answer hey s I’m in Ghana watching two romance scammers at work he calls himself The Punisher and she is Miami Queen I missed you and to my surprise they’re scamming men not

Women how long has it been baby been the while right I know but I told you I had problems with my phone H I understand I still love you sweetheart let me go and take a shower okay I’ll call you when I’m done yeah don’t go anywhere just wait for me

I so what just happened here you were started to call somebody right and then when he accepts if it’s a video you pass it on to her yeah when you’re communicating he thinks he’s communicating the whole time with her but he’s communicating with you and then you’re just mine is just to look

Beautiful and make him feel sweet how much I love him most of romance scamming is messaging just typing but they’ve rented the space tonight for these occasional video calls hoping to satisfy their clients how many people do you guys know that are scammers a whole lot of people

We have we have friends comers like dozens hundreds all your friends are doing it yeah I have friends who are rich very rich they’ve built houses big big cars everybody’s making money wiring money gift cards or straight up cash are preferred but payment in Bitcoin is also

Becoming popular I’m a female I’m using the profile of a female so you’re pretending to be a woman and scam I’m pretending to be a woman it’s easier to get money from men he says and there’s simply more men using online dating Sites and yet back in the States far fewer men than women report being victims and this person you’re talking to Michael has no idea that you’re actually a man in Ghana yes I started falling love not for intercourse or whatever it is but you know I I felt for him right

Michael is a kind hearted I think Michael has been too good to me how much money has Michael sent you so far more than thank more than $10,000 for what what do you say R apartment school fees Michel knows I’m School here in GH wow okay so I do this are you actually

Calling him yes where is he Virginia oh so Michael is not online oh okay no dice but had Michael picked up he would have seen this video recording of a young woman this video will play when you answer a call but if you talk it doesn’t match she’s not talking you see she’s

Typing oh my god wow so you have the video and then you’re just typing yes where did you get this video you buy it online oh you buy it yeah like scripts these videos are part of a scammer’s professional toolkit an underground industry unto Itself hi hi Honey hi I love you I miss I keep watching them through the night but no money has come in not even from Michael so they say it’s time to take it to the next level this com is not really moving if you’re not adding black magic

This what I do I print a picture of Michael and Michael’s name and present it to the priest the priest will use the picture to tune Michael’s mind that whatever I ask Michael Michael has to provide it for me black mag The Punisher will take us to the woman

Who will put a love spell on Michael one that will fill his heart and empty his Wallet they call her Nana a title of high respect in the local language she plays a vital role in a homegrown black magic infused scamming culture called sakua it links traditional West African rituals and blessings to the god-given fortunes of cyber fraud the kind aimed at foreigners in far off lands

Virgia scammers like The Punisher are often called Saka boys and today he really needs her powers to work for So you think that now that you’ve met with the priest you’re going to receive the money exactly I’m going to receive the money mhm now l than um 2 weeks how much money have you made you think from scamming more than $ 202k more than that the black magic no it works perfectly Yeah 20 grand is a lot of money especially in Ghana but it’s Pocket Change compared to what some of the bigger operators are raking in that’s who I’m still trying to find one of the alpha mes of the scamming World a figure known as The Finisher I think this is

It yeah so how a lot of these romance cams are now being done by sort of larger criminal networks and one of the leaders of one of these groups has agreed to meet us the groundwork for this meeting started back a week ago my local producer had

Been digging and connected with a man named pussycat who claimed to be a finisher we first met him without cameras on a rooftop in a c he said little I could tell he was kidding I left dubus that we would hear from him again but to my surprise yesterday he

Called and gave us this address up the coast hi I’m the journalist you said I could come and meet you with your approve you’re supposed to prove to somebody that we are American okay so you need a document a driver license uh transport kuu here is is the best for me to get

Anything I want oh wow does she actually exist the real person no she doesn’t exist to my right is kiriku the master of Forge documents if a client wants proof of anything he’s the man to go to it’s a girl with a goat I need to put

That sheese in Singapore with a goat to his right is Prince he’s the hunter you’re the first person in this you start looking on different dating sites yeah his talent choosing the right bait while casting the whitest net cuz there’s a lot of different fish in the

Sea I will give you a photo based on how I see you if I see that you are intelligent I’ll find a very smart photo to give you then comes the impersonator he goes by the name Shadow I make the calls sort of like the actor I guess

Exactly yeah hey hi James how are you that’s his voice when he scams men all right honey bye and finally the guy who brought me here pussycat and what is yours then I’m the final Striker like the finisher The Finisher at last The Finisher you start

The goal of it all which is getting the money because I’m I’m enlightened more on and the kind of format I should be giving them format he says it’s another word for script initially we used to copy and paste them right but it could be that the person has received the same

Format from somebody right I’m going to write to so that it’s going to differ so you don’t need to copy and paste you have it all in your head I have them here it’s his long experience mining the psyche of clients that gives the finisher the insights to write these

Fake scenarios to know his ideology to know how mature he is and what I can do to let him understand that I’m real whether you call them scripts or formats they’re the Beating Heart of the scams multi-million dollar industry as soon as you read the format whatever you have in

Your account you’re going to pull it out you’re that convincing sure even you if we want to scam you we can do that you think so yeah you know sometimes we can talk to you for about one year without not asking you with d we can even

Sending your money you can be sending your money can be buying your gifts food St buy gold and send it to you so that will make you it’s okay that’s okay what do you mean you don’t want him to say more yes pussycat immediately Cuts things off

But I get it small gifts might lure me to reciprocate with bigger gifts and someday maybe a cash loan this is how we do it though they aren’t willing to give out their formats they let me listen in on a call all in Texas yeah and it’s a

Man as well yeah yes it’s another male victim how old do it I’m quickly realizing that targeting men is actually quite common here even though we hear almost exclusively about female victims you mostly hunt for men and we also have some Hunters who are hunting for women

They’re all telling me the same thing not only do men have more money they’re much easier to full hello yeah can you hear me hey hi buny how are you how are you doing why can I see H I have a little problem with my camera that sucks yeah sorry

Okay hey what’s up I miss you when are you coming up okay I’m going to be up in like half an hour in a half hour you’re coming up take you an hour and a half to get here asking you when are you coming

Up when do you want me to come there a month ago okay I know but you know because of the Corona virus oh you have the virus now I no no no no no I don’t have the virus personally but it’s in here now Africa looks like someone has gone off script Hello when do you want me to come there a month ago okay I know but you know because of the Corona virus it’s in here in Africa that’s enough St I’m with a den of romance scammers in Ghana they’re working together to scam a man in Texas hello but because they’re

Juggling dozens of active clients they briefly lose track of the script hello can you hear me hello I would like to come over like this weekend but I don’t have enough gas in my car and I had to use that little box she sent me to get some little

Medications all right okay bye for now bye love you I still don’t understand how they explain their strange accents but maybe they’re right men looking for love are just easier to fool so in this format it’s an American Girl willing to go see this person and

Is waiting for you and he sending you money to go and see him yeah and what’s his name his first name is James how much money has James sent 00 bucks $100 $100 gas for gas it’s a new client and what does James think you look like beautiful woman I’ve been sending him

Videos to so it’s not difficult to find photos and videos it is difficult because you may not know where to get them and we are not going to tell you the sit you can get them because that would ruin your business that is my strength but I cannot do the graphic

Works but kuu here is very good if you could have a job as an actual graphic designer professional graphic designer would you rather do that yeah that’s what I want to do but I have no job I have nothing I have a kid I have a

Family so working with a team I get enough to take care of my family volume expertise efficiency sure they make mistakes hello baby can you hear me but with their strength and numbers they can regroup readjust and scale up their romantic Pursuits over and over and over again after he confess

I felt so stupid I had been a former Air Force intelligence officer I had been a senior bank manager I’d had legal training I was running a company people say don’t send money to a stranger well he wasn’t a Stranger by that point this guy knew more about me

Than probably any man had ever known he texted me back one day and said I’m a poor black man from Africa my whole world just fell apart completely shattered hi Ben hi Ben hi how’s it going it’s great how are you I’m doing well back in the States I again meet up

With Susan she wants me to witness something she’s been eager to do for quite some time sounds like you’ve run into some questionable uh lovers she’s Enlisted the help of Ben Taylor a scam Buster who exposes many of their tricks on his popular YouTube channel today

We’re going to talk about a scam that happens to you when you’re online looking for someone to have a good time with he’s part of a growing number of cyber Vigilantes disrupting the work of scammers some have been able to freeze assets shut down their bank accounts even hack into their

Computers so tell me a little bit about these these folks that have reached out to you how did it begin I uh signed up on Facebook dating I met Damian after two weeks of chatting he asked uh for $15,000 to help him get home wow in fact

When I interviewed Susan before I left for Ghana she told me that nearly every man she met online after Daman was also a scammer I met Ryan and then I met Joe and Joe and Kenny played their game very well it’s guy after guy after guy after guy probably

90% of them are fake frustrated and fed up she decided to fight back so You’ talk to some of these gentlemen on the phone is that right one calls me every morning and every evening he thinks I’m going to go get $8,000 out of my bank

And take it to the Bitcoin location well are you going to do it I’m going to pretend to do it okay the scammer named Paul says he’s working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico I’m doing some reverse image searches to see if I can

Find this guy anywhere I haven’t found anything yet oh hold on I think I’ve just found something first thing that pops up is a David Hoffman who’s a lifting supervisor so you think the real guy is called David Hoffman and that this guy is using that photo I’m thinking that there’s a

Guy in Northern Ireland who has no idea that somebody else is using his picture I would agree okay so maybe we can try to find out who this guy is and where he’s from okay okay so I’m just off work he wants to talk on the phone yeah all right one

Second I can’t wait to hear this guy’s voice okay all right here we go hello honey honey are you there hello baby are you doing oh I’m better now I’m talking to you listen I’m getting ready ready to head to the bank okay you know what you

Need to do right I do and honey I forgot why why did you need the money I forgot yeah so I told you about the equipment for by custom so I I have to pay the clearance for that’s why right right yeah so why you see me what are you

Going to do well my first reaction will be to run up and give you a big hug and kiss yeah I love honey can you hold just a second I think you’re muted we might be able to see exactly where he is but we need him to click on a

Link what if we tell him that you’re withdrawing the money right now and you’re on your way to the Bitcoin machine we could probably send them the link to a location like a gas station or something where the Bitcoin machine is and we can say is this the place I need

To go to deposit the money and if he clicks on it then I might have some information to give you okay okay okay s all right now we all wait and pray that he’s dumb enough to click on the link oh my God I’m sort of nervous are you yeah

Feel like he’s going to jump right out of it and grab us all right I just got a clip let’s go ahead and tell him that you are getting the money now okay s all right now we all wait and pray that he’s dumb enough to click on the Link I’m sort of nervous are you yeah Right all right I just got a click they clicked it both the FBI and the Secret Service can take on investigations but rarely can they bring Justice to American victims that’s why so many are turning to people like Ben not only to search for their money but

With a craving to give these scammers a dose of their own medicine I’ve got all the information right here are you ready yes the scammer named Paul says he’s working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico the time zone in his phone is putting him in Acra

Ghana wow aquar Ghana where the heck is that in West Africa in Ghana according to a 2018 research paper only Nigeria tops Ghana in housing the IP addresses of romance scammers but since Ghana is only a seventh of Nigeria’s population one country is clearly punching above its weight all right so I’m getting

Ready now to block him because we’re done with him right all we had was Paul City not his real name or address or anything that might lead to an actual bust but still Susan is clearly enjoying Ben’s help oh it’s Lucas oh it’s Lucas okay we’ll talk to Lucas hi honey hey

Beautiful how are you I’m good I just wanted to talk to you a lots of criminals lie and steal but a romance scammer con is more intimate I love you honey I love you too sweetie their payday depends on gaining the trust and affection of another human

Being I’ll be waiting for you online I wonder if that leaves them more conflicted I I love Michael he’s been so kind to me you know since I met him I did believe the Punisher when he told me he’d fallen in love with his victim do

You think he’d be so sad if he found out that you were a man yeah everybody will feel sad if it happens to him or her you know he might go through a lot to forget this you know maybe he might commit a suicide or something he didn’t receive 20,000 from

Michael but they’re still in an online relationship I just have to say this to be able to be to be free it’s something that I did that pains me so much anytime I think about it I regret him doing it for Odo seeing one of his victims

Evicted from her home actually made him leave the game I took $3,000 that she’s using in pain was a whole lot that I li to her it’s a very sad thing it’s a very St thing you have glasses on and we can’t see very well but I can um you’re

Getting emotional talking about this yeah yeah yeah it CS me so much me remembering it it CS me so much but my Miami Queen sees no reason to feel remorse quite people came to Africa when it was like gold Co made us slaves and killed a whole lot of people it’s a

Justification I’ve heard before so we feel like you guys owe us a lot scams as reparations we need to survive Africa need to survive at the expense of other people suffering yes I wonder if you know how much harm you’re actually inflicting on someone in our case we interviewed mostly women and

Now it’s difficult for them to find other people to trust other people some of people lost millions of dollars I know all this kind of stories it happens it’s not easy sleeping without food so it’s easier to sleep with a guilty conscience than it is with an empty

Stomach yeah but you know you know everybody is finding able to survive you have to come here sometimes and help somebody get some fish you go out and sell it to survive else you won’t eat the whole day before I left Ghana pussycat wanted to show me a fishing

Village not far from where he grew up so what’s the percentage of people if they’re born in a community like this that they’re able to get out of poverty H it’s very very very very minute I mean most of them are born here they live here and they die here because there’s no

Hope when I come here I see young girls and I’ve been telling them they should study hard how do they buy those books so sometimes we come and share books for them these are potential national [Laughter] leaders yeah so he want to be a footballer a footballer what playd Cristiano Ronaldo Cristiano

Ronaldo that’s a good choice Portuguese he want to be a banker he wants to be a banker yes he want to do a banker no one grows up wanting to become a romance cam it’s a decision made out of desperation okay mechanical engineer mechanical engineer yeah so you see they have

Dreams but I also understand that people do what they have to do to survive and to provide for their families that urge is universal maybe as universal as the search for love Itself

Video “Romance Scams (Full Episode) | Trafficked with Mariana van Zeller” was uploaded on 02/10/2024. Watch all the latest Videos by National Geographic on Gretopia