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Russian Online Marriage Fraud Is Booming

Andrei Nesterov, Moscow, Russia, July 5, 2005

Elena Petrova’s Web site, Russian Brides Cyber Guide, features information about meeting Russian women

Elena Petrova’s Web site, Russian Brides Cyber Guide, features information about meeting Russian women, including a blacklist of reported scammers. (See www.womenrussia.com.)

Online marriage fraud is booming among the young ladies of the Russian city of Barnaul, situated in southern Siberia, the National News Agency reported.

Hundreds of girls of different professions communicate with foreigners (predominantly American men) online on a daily basis. Ladies of different occupations — reporters and students, nurses and real estate agents — pose as “Cinderellas” in exchange for money they receive from kind-hearted men.

The girls give painful descriptions of their “hardships” and then ask for money. According to the National News Agency, foreign men are especially sensitive to such girls’ legends as “My parents are unemployed, and we are starving,” “I am a victim of domestic violence,” “My mother is a drunkard,” “My house burned down,” and “Chechens kidnapped my brother and demand a ransom.”

The National News Agency wrote that the girls conduct meetings once a week and compete with one another in terms of the amount of money raised from men. At their weekly meetings, the girls read each other the most touching passages from their correspondence, and together brainstorm new tales for their future letters.

The girls involve their friends in this fraud scheme by selling them the addresses of the relevant Web sites, along with recommendations on how to write the letters that will touch foreigners deeply and not raise suspicions. When newcomers begin receiving money from abroad, they are required to share 20 percent of their online earnings with the girls who got them in the business. If she doesn’t want to share the money, her senior “fellow-businessmen” write to the foreign men, calling her a crook. After this, foreigners stop sending her money.

One of the girls, 25-year-old Svetlana says that at one point of her life she realized she could profit from the myths foreigners have about Russia. “They think that Russia is all about criminals and beggars.” Svetlana makes the men feel sorry for the beautiful girl living under such “gloomy” circumstances. The feeling of sorrow is transformed into remittances for Svetlana.

Svetlana is not conscience-stricken about this. On the contrary, she claims she is doing a good thing for foreign men by teaching them to be kind, considerate and human. “We make them feel confident, we say they are the best. In this way, they get rid of their inferiority complex. I should have charged them more for doing this job!”

Not only ladies do such things in Russia, but also some men. A man from Chelyabinsk, an engineer by profession, posed as a girl for dozens of foreign men with whom he had correspondence for five years. When their correspondence turned into “friendship,” the “girl” said she wanted to visit the foreigner, but was short of money. The foreign man sent the money (the swindler hired female students to receive the money), and then the correspondence was stopped. Most men who were cheated, have reconciled themselves to this fact, but one Australian appealed to President Putin’s administration. The authorities initiated a police investigation, and the swindler was detected and sentenced. However, the verdict for him was not that strict — one year of imprisonment. The man was released in the courtroom as he had already spent one year in prison during the investigation. He had managed to make $100,000 in five years.

However, ladies are more inclined to start correspondence with foreigners for shady purposes. The motive for such conduct is described very well in Waytorussia.net’s questions and answers section (www.waytorussia.net/WhatIsRussia/
MythsAndTruth.html). A comment from June 2002 answers the question of whether “Russian girls are quite different from others.” The author says, “Yes, they seem to be, if you mean being different from women in Europe or in the U.S. … They seem to be planning their life less than Western people, but nevertheless are very pragmatic. Many foreigners I talked to say that Russian women want to live ‘here and now’ rather than planning something long-term. However, this ‘here and now’ should be good quality too, so that’s where they are pragmatic.”

Luckily for foreign men, they have some tools to safeguard themselves from some “overly pragmatic” girls. One such tool is a blacklist of Russian women at Russian Brides Cyber Guide’s Web site (www.womenrussia.com/blacklist_summary.htm). It is made by the men who were cheated at some point of their search for a partner. As a rule, girls ask for money for the trip to visit men and start being together. The unlucky men post on the blacklist the names and photos of the ladies with bad reputations, and some of the letters.

If we analyze the letters of the girls from the viewpoint of logic and skepticism, it is hard to believe in the feelings the girls try to express. If the lady does not love the man, it can be easily seen. Some letters remind one of business correspondence more than romantic exchanges. “Dear Himanshu, Write to me the a phone number and I shall call you tomorrow in 5 p.m. Moscow time. I hope it it will be convenient for you. As I can send you a copy of my passport that your doubts have ended. I looked the approximate prices for air tickets for the current month. On the average cost — 1050 $. Inform me if this sum is a problem. I think that the most simple and reliable way to send money is to put them on the account of a plastic card. Unfortunately I have no any plastic cards. But my girlfriend has a card Visa. You can put money for it.” Then account information is given. “Write to me soon and I shall call to you tomorrow. I love you your ELENA.”

However, men are trapped when they forget about precautions and allow feelings to speak for themselves. “She is building a love affair and you are the king. She is beautiful, and if you don’t fall in love with her, you don’t have a pulse,” wrote one of the cheated men bitterly. “I am 46 year old single parent who was scammed by a supposedly 32 year old Russian beauty. She contacted me through Yahoo Personals and three other Russian women have also. She asks for $600.00 for visa, travel to Moscow to embassy, and hotel and food. She breaks it down saying so much for this and so much for that. Then she says it takes about 11 days to wait for visa and asks for $150.00 more. Now the first $150.00 that was included in the original $600.00 was for 4 days hotel stay. Then when she asked for another $150.00 so she could stay in hotel until she got her visa, I knew those figures didn’t work out … at all.”

“If something seems to good to be true, it probably is,” summed up the man his misfortunes.

Surprisingly, some men can be misled even by quite primitive letter samples copied by many girls word for word and sent in dozens, such as this one: “Possible, you can ask me, why I didn’t find a Russian man? I will be very serious, I will answer to you, that I had a boyfriend from Russia from my city, I loved him very much, but he has thrown me in last time. He found another girl, as I have understood. Also I have seen that he liked to drink an alcohol very-very much, as many men in Russia do it, may be you know about it. I don’t like this when men like to drink so much as my last boyfriend did it! I am non-drinking and non-smoking girl! Simply, I don’t have harmful habits!”

In reality, an online fraud business does not teach men to express their best feelings, but it may kill the good in a person who faced this scam and experienced some damage from it. It is hard to estimate the percentage of scammers among Russian women who correspondent with foreign men, it can be only a small fraction of all women, but this spoils the reputation of all Russian ladies (despite the fact that there are many romantic and kind-hearted persons among them, and also many those, some who suffer and need real help).

As for foreign men, they should learn how to distinguish real feelings from acting. For instance, the lady loving you will be ready to invite you to her country, instead of requesting money for her trip to your country. Also, you had better quit some myths about Russia, such as that poverty here is total and every person can afford nothing in her life. There were examples when American men sent money to female employees of oil companies or to a lawyer who claimed that she earned $100 per month. This can hardly happen in real life, even in Russia where the average salary reached 6,577 rubles in 2004, which is equivalent to $235.

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