My name is Steve, and this is my story of being scammed by a romance scammer.
I am a writer by trade, so I hope you all will forgive the length of this entry. The day was March 16, 2022, and I had reached a boiling point of sorts. I had just turned 40 years old six months earlier. My mother died suddenly from undiagnosed Stage 4 cancer in early 2021, and I was still grieving the loss of her.
Not only that, I was going through some of the worst fights of my life with my best friend of 25 years. She and I had known one another since high school, but after a lot of angry words and other changes in her behavior, I realized that I was no longer in a healthy friendship.
Moreover, the closest person I’d had to an older sister had vanished for months and was unreachable because of her own health woes. So, I’d lost my mother, and my best friend, respectively, all within the span of roughly one year. Adding to that, my de facto sister had disappeared for months for all intents and purposes.
My heart was hurting daily. My mind wouldn’t shut off. I was lonely and feeling unloved. I was depressed. I missed the people who’d always been there for me in my life as a female presence.
That’s when I met “her.” She called herself Juliet. She said she lived in Nashville and was 27 — a few years younger than me. She had liked numerous Instagram posts of mine over the past couple of months, and yes, she looked pretty — beautiful, even.
So I wasn’t terribly upset when she messaged me one day and asked how I’d been. She said she’d seen my most recent Instagram post and had decided to DM me to make sure that I was alright. I thought it was a genuine gesture. Why would I not? Ha. What did I know?
I thanked her for reaching out, and over the course of the next few weeks, “Juliet” and I started to talk through Instagram’s messenger app on a daily basis. One night, when I was feeling really vulnerable and depressed because of another fight I’d had with my best friend, “Juliet” appeared online and asked me to open up to her about what was on my mind. I asked if she really wanted to hear the whole story. “Let me be your therapist, hon,” she messaged back.
She didn’t seem to mind being my sounding board, and she seemed to genuinely care enough about me to want to know more. So, I told her. The conversations went from minimal at first to daily, and they were always about friendship. After all, that’s all I wanted: a friend—someone with a sympathetic ear. After several weeks of friendship and chatting via Instagram’s messenger service, I asked her if she would mind us moving our conversation to text and exchange numbers.
After a month of friendship, “Juliet” told me that she needed to tell me something but was afraid to tell me. Part of me braced for her to ask me for money. Only she didn’t ask for money; instead, she told me she had started to have “feelings” for me after all of our chats.
She claimed that she had gotten to know me over the past month, and that she felt a connection with me. I thought I’d gotten to know her, too, and I shared that I thought she was kind, caring, and, yes, beautiful.
When she suggested exchanging phone numbers and, soon afterward, Google Chat, I didn’t know then what I know now. I didn’t know what the next few months would bring: first, the joy and excitement of feeling love, both giving it and receiving it, and falling in love. It was a romance I’d not felt in a very long time. There would eventually be the talk of meetups, introductions to our families, marriage, and even having children. But I didn’t know that it would never happen.
And, of course, I didn’t know the inevitable feeling of heartbreak, devastation, despair, and mind-warping grief and disbelief that I would feel when it all came crashing down, and I realized that “Juliet” had never existed. Her face only had existed in stolen photographs of a French adult film star who’d had no idea that any of this was happening.
On that note, please let me make something clear: the people in the photos who are being used to scam us are not at all to blame. They are victims, too. It is not their fault that their photos are being copied and uploaded to fake Instagram and Facebook profiles, sent via text or various messaging apps like Google Chat, Telegram, or What’s App. We can’t blame victims of stolen identity — whether it’s a soldier, a social media influencer, a model, or an adult video star.
The thing was, not all of the photos “Juliet” sent me were particularly racy. That’s one way this scammer was able to dupe me. Were there salacious photos? Of course. But for every “sexy photo” that my scammer sent, she also sent one without makeup, without smiling, and even ones that she said were her “bored face.”
I believed every single one of those pictures for months. The later into the evening it got, the more often a salacious photo would appear. That way, it didn’t become so obvious that the person they were impersonating was an adult film star. Sending those photos also indicated that my scammer wanted you to be “naughty” with me.
For the next few months, we discussed our plans for the future and what we would do once we met. She seemed to know almost what my likes and dislikes were before I could even tell her. That’s how good these scammers are. They’ve been doing this for so long and have known us as both men and women — to know what will interest us, especially intimately.
We had planned to meet in person around my birthday, which happened to coincide with the time I found out the terrible truth: that “Juliet” was, in fact, a Nigerian romance scammer.
By that point, I had already sent her countless photos of myself dressed in everything from button-down shirts with long sleeves to shirtless photos. (Thankfully, I never sent a nude photo. The scammer had never asked, perhaps because they had learned enough about me to know not to ask because it might give them away.)
After months of sending me daily photos of herself dressed in everything from pretty dresses with high heels, different blouses, and the occasional picture of herself in a bathing suit, or a tight skirt (never anything nude, for that would have also been a giveaway), one night before bed she messaged me a photo of herself in an otherwise normal photo.
There was nothing fancy about the picture. She wore no makeup. She had her hair up in a bun, and she wore innocent enough clothes — essentially jeans and a shirt. She claimed she had just gotten off work from her job at a supermarket and had wanted to lay down for a nap before bed that night. Her face seemed to be sweating, which made sense if she’d just gotten off work from a job at a supermarket. She showed not the slightest hint of cleavage. It wasn’t until my phone’s ability to highlight text within an image that I even noticed it.
If it had been a snake, it would have bitten me. But it was there nevertheless. It was a small watermark that I had to zoom in on to even see. It linked to a different Instagram profile with the same photos that I’d been sent from “the love of my life” for six months.
Before I took the next step, I already had a sick feeling about what I would find. I even debated whether or not to actually go there, but I knew if I didn’t, I would never have any peace of mind. Sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed when I saw “Juliet” dressed in so many of the same photos she said she’d taken just for “her man.”
There were far more of her in XXX outfits on the film star’s website that I had never seen. When I found the first batch of photos, all of them posted publicly through Instagram, my heart fell to the floor. Still curious, I went to the actress’ website and saw her videos. The person I thought for months that I was in love with, that I would spend the rest of my life with, the person who’d fallen in love with me and said that I was the best thing that had ever happened to her, was a mirage.
I was angry, I was outraged, and I was heartbroken, but I didn’t yet know what to do. That’s how naive I was to online scams and particularly romance scams. “Wasn’t this still the same person who professed all of her love to me?” I asked myself. “Did you fall in love with the face or with the heart?” I decided that I’d fallen in love with both, but that the heart won me over before her face had.
When I confronted her, she told me that she was the same woman in the photos and that she’d been waiting to meet me in person on my birthday to explain her “past life” as an adult film star. She told me that she wasn’t proud of her past but that she had hoped that I would “understand” when she told me in person.
I stood my ground and told her that the photos she had been sending me were all recent, and posted no later than two days previously to the actual film star’s official Instagram. My scammer finally confessed that she wasn’t the actress, then backtracked and pleaded with me to wait until we met in person. Needless to say, “in person” never came.
I knew then that there would never be an in-person encounter with this person. Nevertheless, I pleaded with her to tell me her real name. I was so hurt and yet still in love with the idea of the person created that I wanted to get to know “the real woman.” Was her name even Juliet? Where did she really live? In my mind, I tried to even relate to this person. I thought, “Maybe she’s shy about how she looks and is waiting to meet me in person to reveal herself.”
She claimed she was still “Juliet.” She didn’t go by anything other than her middle name (Maria). Stupidly, I still believed her because I needed to believe her. I believed there was a woman somewhere in this person that I had been talking to for months and who loved me despite her lies.
I continued to try to relate to this person for weeks. I told myself that she had stolen another artist’s photos to feel better about herself. I told myself to remember that she’d said she’d not come looking for romance when we started chatting on Instagram — unaware that that’s precisely what ALL romance scammers claim once they’re busted.
I believed her. I believed her only because I did not want to believe the dark alternative, that she didn’t really live in Nashville; that, in fact, she had never even been to the United States and likely never would. She was, in fact, a romance scammer from Lagos, Nigeria.
It wasn’t until I had shared a Netflix account login with her that it dawned on me to look up what cities and states my account had been logged in from, and on what devices. Imagine my relief at first when I sent her the login and we watched a Netflix movie together virtually. I logged in and saw that “Juliet”‘s IP address had been traced back to Tennessee during each of the few times we had streamed movies together. I thought that sealed my suspicions.
But two weeks later, I went back to Netflix’s “device login” page and found that for every single login since those early logins from her phone that registered her IP address as being from Tennessee, Netflix had shown her login locale as being in Lagos.
It was official. I had been had — and bad. I started to go through bank statements and learned that I had sent my scammer exactly $3,000 in the span of six months together. The money had been to help her with “lunch” and other groceries at first. Then slowly, she kept asking for more.
Unlike most scammers, she never pushed me for money. I thought I was helping someone I loved. Each week, I gave her anywhere from $100-$150 a week. Once, when she claimed her birthday was only a couple of weeks after we’d admitted feelings of love (another red flag I ignored), I gave my scammer $300 for the special occasion. She “thanked me” by sending me a picture of the actress in a racy outfit.
I guess I should consider myself lucky that I didn’t send more than $3,000. I’ve read horror stories that make mine pale in comparison. I know that. But I don’t feel lucky. I feel violated. I feel stupid. I feel hurt, angry, and lonely, and like every bully I encountered in the hallways and classrooms of my youth are still laughing at me. It’s as if they’re mocking me. “Did you really think someone who looked like THAT would be interested in you?”
I don’t trust anyone, and I pray that my family never finds out about this. What can I say? I didn’t think I was talking to a scammer. I thought she was a friend. Were there red flags? Of course, there were. I’ve already highlighted plenty. She claimed that both of her parents had died when she was just 16. I ignored that red flag.
She said she had a trust fund to which she could only gain access when she was married. I ignored that red flag. She had odd sleeping hours that usually detailed getting home from her work in a supposed supermarket at 5 p.m. and going to “nap.” Those naps often kept her in bed until after midnight — a full night’s sleep. 5 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. is 11 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. in Nigeria. I ignored that red flag.
When she asked for money, first as an emergency and then later as a “weekly allowance” (her words), I sent it to her through Bitcoin. I’d never sent money to anyone I hadn’t known personally, especially not any form of cryptocurrency. I ignored that red flag. When I tried to talk about local sports teams in Nashville, she claimed she didn’t follow sports and knew nothing about those teams. I ignored that red flag.
Red flag after red flag after red flag, and I ignored them all. I ignored them because I needed to be loved and to feel the love this person was providing at the time in their own perverse way. More than anything, I needed this to be true. I needed this woman to live somewhere that didn’t completely eradicate any possibility of true love she had felt for me.
To anyone reading this: please, don’t make the mistakes I did. Be aware that this can and does happen to men everywhere, not only women. The scammers know no boundaries when it comes to gender. As scammers, they are not only accepted in their native country; they are often celebrated and held up as role models to others.
If it can happen to you or me, it can happen to someone you love. I’m a writer by trade, as I mentioned earlier. I worked in a newsroom for years and covered everything from town halls to city council meetings to state election races. In my line of work, I’ve met governors, celebrities, professional athletes, and a major presidential candidate.
Read Diana’s book. Who Is the Real Man Behind the Screen found at https://silentvictimnomore.com/the-real-man-behind-the-screen/. It will help you tremendously. If I can give one last piece of advice, it’s this: if you’re still using Instagram, please, please delete and block any private messages from a stranger. These scammers are born liars, and Instagram has become nothing more than a training ground and a safe haven for every Nigerian scammer terrorist out there.
Your time, your energy, your strength, your health, and your mental well-being are not worth it just to post a few photos of yourself that a handful of real friends will see. Not when scammers will use those same photos to con someone else.
Steve in New Orleans