A bride scam is a form of romance scam or relationship scam – a confidence trick that aims to defraud potential grooms (partners) with the offer of a foreign bride.
The basis of the scam is to seek men (or a partner) from the western world (typically) who would like to marry a foreign woman (partner) and pretend to be willing to marry them. The women can be from almost anywhere, from Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, or Africa.
Throughout this article, we will refer to a man (the victim) and a woman (the scammer) – though they can be any gender.
The woman (scammer) asks the man (victim) to send money, for example, for the purposes of purchasing an airline ticket or a visa they have no intention of buying. The relationship ends after requested money has been sent and received, sometimes after multiple transfers have been made.
Some scammers actually live off of their victims for months or years.
This phenomenon increased in number with the rise of the internet with its online dating sites and online chats.
Etiology or Manifestation Of Bride Scams
In general, there are two basic types of Bride Scams:
- The Russian/Ukrainian style bride scams
- The Real Person bride scams
Russian Style Bride Scams
In the Russian (or Eastern European) style Bride Scams they are typically part of larger organized crime activities.
They involve the man (usually, though now can be gay women or any gender) search for a wife in Eastern Europe (or Asia or Latin America).
These can be found on marriage facilitation or dating websites. The women use their real photos and many times their real names in the creation of profiles that serve to initiate contact and lure the victim in.
Communications will start up fairly normally and the relationship will progress quickly. The goal is to get the man to come and visit the country where the woman lives or provide them with money until this can happen.
In order to do this, the woman will guide the man to various businesses that he “must” use because he does not know what works in that country. These include gift retailers, travel services, etc. Once the travel has been purchased through the Criminal Gang owned businesses, the victim will come to the country.
Upon arrival, the man stays in a designated hotel, eats at designated restaurants (all owned or controlled by the criminals). The time spent with the woman may include local travel as well (arranged by the criminals, such as a car rental.) Equally important is that it will probably include intimate contact with the woman in the hotel – where there maybe surveillance and recording.
The intimacy serves several purposes, and it depends on the wealth of the man (in many cases).
Here are examples of how these scams work:
- Wealthy men may be tricked into a one-time sexual assault scam: where they are recorded and then accused of raping or assaulting the woman. The woman may threaten to call “family” or the “police” unless he pays – usually large amounts – from thousands to tens of thousands. The threat remains even after the man leaves the country, so these are rarely reported to legitimate police.
- Men who do not have as much can be tricked into multiple visits – these may not include intimate encounters, but rather the constantly postponed promise of them, so they make many trips in the hope of progressing the relationship. Each time, spending all they have on the trip and local expenses. They can also convert into Maintenance Scams.
- Financial support can also be a goal, where the victim supports the woman over an extended period of time while waiting on a Visa or documents that never seem to come or get done.
Real Person Bride Scams
There are two types of “REAL PERSON” bride scams:
- An actual person, who communicates with the scam victim – using their real name and details (photos, life details, etc.) – but simply omits that they are scamming.
- Stolen photo/identity impersonation scam, where the scammers are pretending to be someone else to lure in the victim.
Actual Person Scams
The actual person scams are very common throughout Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Asia especially. Most notably the Philippines where women use this model to support themselves.
This is almost a form of prostitution, but understandable in high poverty regions.
They will introduce themselves, their lives, and even children – using them as a pawn in their scam. Most often, these women are actually married or have boyfriends that “pimp” them out to victims. If the victim comes to their country, almost any activity is possible, including sex, for the right amount of money. The victim will then return to their country and continue to support the scammer until the truth is discovered or the scammer “breaks up” with the victim when they think they are about to be discovered or the money runs out.
Stolen Photo/Identity Scams
The stolen photo/identity scams are very similar to the Nigerian-Style scams, except that there is an up-front focus on a potential marriage. Nigerian-Style scams develop over time into this, but these scams offer the promise of a marriage upfront through their various websites or matchmaking services.
Why They Work?
These scams work for a simple reason – distance and manipulation!
The scammers are always in a different country from the victim. In order to call out, or complain about a scammer it usually requires returning to the country to file a police report. Few victims are willing to do that, regardless of how hurt or angry they are.
Additionally, the scammers use various manipulative approaches to prevent the victims from following through with reporting. These include:
- threats of violence if the victim ever returns
- threats of arrest for being accused of a crime, such as sexual assault
- threats of kidnapping
- threats of the release of compromising photos or videos to friends or family
The threat of violence in these cases can be quite real.
In the Nigerian-style scams, the scammer is in Africa or wherever, but even though their organization may be large they do not go after victims. But with certain bride scams, they are run by very serious criminal organizations that do have “henchmen” around the world – the Russian, Chinese, Japanese, or Latin American mafias for example. With them, there is a real risk, and victims usually share everything about themselves during the “relationship” and make themselves highly vulnerable.
The U.S. State Department often refers to bride scams as “Boris and Natasha” scams, when a lonely American believes he has found a beautiful woman to marry except Natasha ends up being a Boris.
Bride scams are a part of the rapidly growing criminal activity known as Cybercrime, which in 2007 and 2008 cost approximately US$8 billion worldwide. Today it is over USD$3 trillion per year and growing rapidly.
Currently, laws are unable to properly deal with the various forms of Cybercrime that are facing contemporary law enforcement agencies.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as Interpol, are currently working to establish working relationships with other global organizations to help combat this recent trend.
Most of the current legislation in the United States surrounding international marriage brokers (IMBs) or Mail-order brides began in 1990 and was superseded multiple times, most recently in the 2005 International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA). This legislation was focused on protecting the women involved – who are made vulnerable due to the multitude of circumstances surrounding their move to the United States.
Furthermore, some parts of the current legislation in the U.S. may hurt the ability of men to protect themselves against fraud. IMBRA stipulates that:
“IMBs may not disclose a recruit’s personal information to a U.S. client until the recruit has reviewed any records retrieved and has returned a signed document in her primary language (no exceptions) consenting to the release of her information.”
The premise of this law may be to protect the women from domestic violence and exploitation and it probably does, the law does not provide inquiring men with enough protection. Currently, the only laws available to protect the rights of the men being targeted by bride scams are those concerning Cybercrime.
The IMBRA did require the U.S. Attorney General to conduct a study on international marriage brokers, which sheds light on the women who use fraud to manipulate men with the promise of marriage before disappearing upon entry to the United States.
There are laws concerning computer fraud and they can be “separated into two categories: 1) crimes facilitated by a computer and 2) crimes where a computer or network is the target.”
Bride scam refers to the first category, “crimes facilitated by a computer,” and is punishable according to U.S. law. U.S code number 18 U.S.C. § 1030. refers to Fraud and Related Activity in Connection with Computers, and explicitly states, “Whoever with intent to extort from any person any money or other thing of value…” is punishable by law.
Nations and Organizations of Interest
Russia, Ukraine, Eastern Europe, Central & Southeast Asia, Philippines, & Latin America is where many of the contemporary fraud experts claim the prospective brides come from, and many of the anti-scam sites look to combat this particular form of bride scam (though the reader should be cautious and rely on real organization sites only).
Many IMBs offer opportunities to marry women from impoverished regions all over the world including Russians, Asians, and Latinas.
With the lack of governmental involvement concerning bride scams, many unaffiliated (amateur) websites have started to provide people with the “How to” when it comes to avoiding being scammed. Most of these sites include a list of “known Russian scammers by name (photo, email, etc)” as well as any photos which are known to have been used by scammers in the past. Some people have even turned to private investigators to help them determine whether or not the woman they are courting actually exists.
Hiring an investigator is usually a waste of money. Trust your gut, if you feel something is not right then it is a scam. End it, block them, and move away!
The problem with all “documentation” or “exposure” efforts is that the sheer number of scammers makes the task almost impossible. If a search is done for a specific person that you believe is a scammer, and you do not find them – it DOES NOT mean they are real or are not a scammer. It only means the catalog is incomplete. The best estimate is that there are approximately 50 MILLION identities or profiles in use with these “real identity” scams and many billions with fake identity scams – no one has them cataloged.
How To Report These Crimes
Reporting is always important and it is your duty as a citizen or resident to report crimes, regardless of where you live.
The first thing to know is that you have to report locally first and always. This means that you file a criminal report for FRAUD (not a scam) – fraud is the word the police respond to.
Report this in this order:
- Local police – fraud report – insist that they take the report and give you a report number. That number is your proof, this can be important because you may have been involved in activities, such as money laundering or breaking other laws in your country. By reporting voluntarily, you will typically be free from any concern. We always recommend that you speak with a criminal defense attorney first if you have any concerns.
- National Police (FBI & FTC). Once you have the local police report number, file a report with your national police – this is usually done online now. See below for more information about this.
- If this was a cybercrime, contact your Cybercrime Police Unit. There are separate cybercrime police units almost everywhere now. Once you have done the local and national reporting, the cybercrime unit can assist, but they are not first responders and usually require prior reporting. They will guide you through their process.
- SCARS|CDN™ Cybercrime Data Network – we collect reports and distribute them to entities around the world. You can report on www.Anyscam.com
In almost all of these cases you will not get much – if any – justice.
You have done what needed to be done, and what comes next depends on the level of risk you are willing to incur. In most cases, we recommend accepting the reality of these crimes and move forward with your life. Continuing to focus on the crime will increase the trauma and either delay or prevent possible recovery.
But once you report, this information is stored and shared appropriately. Over time, people can migrate, and having that information on file (if a real person) could eventually lead to an arrest when crossing borders.
Additionally, you could take the risk and return to their country to file a criminal complaint. It is advisable to discuss this thoroughly and coordinate with your embassy in that country. They can advise you of the real risks and complexities of that process, and help you if you run into trouble there.
This is going to sound like capitulation, but the reality is that the scammer is not likely to be arrested immediately and your money is not likely to be recovered. This is the reality for almost all scam victims.
Scammers and cybercriminals are arrested in large numbers, but this is usually through the accumulation of large numbers of reports or through related criminal activities. In 2019 over 111,000 scammers were arrested worldwide – many were involved in marriage scams; in 2020, even with the pandemic, it was over 67,000 – so progress is being made, but we are a long way from universal law enforcement.
You will probably never hear back from law enforcement after you report and that is tragic, but it just is what it is. No one has the resources to follow up on the number of crimes reported, but your reports are vital in increasing resources to fight these crimes. Sadly, only about 3% of these crimes are reported, and police resources are allocated based upon that – who’s fault is that?
If a scammer is arrested, very few countries care about the victims, so you will probably never be notified even if the police there have your name as a victim. This is simply the reality today.
The goal is always to minimize the damage – your damage as a victim.
End the scam as early as possible and mitigate further damage by having no further contact AT ALL with the scammers. If they learn that you know, the scam will convert into something else – sometimes worse. Do not be a vigilante – they are professionals, you are not.
This leaves you traumatized with no satisfaction in the end. This is a fact that you will have to accept if you want your life back.
We recommend that you join a real scam victims’ support group – local trauma support groups exist everywhere – use them, or you can take advantage of the free SCARS support services, such as groups on Facebook or our support website at www.ScamVictimSupport.org
NEVER look to amateur anti-scam groups for support. You are traumatized and amateurs have no clue what they are doing, and this can lead to greater trauma and full PTSD.
We also recommend local counseling or therapy for your trauma. Many countries will offer trauma healthcare services at no cost to the victim. If you are looking for local trauma counselors please visit https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/trauma-and-ptsd or visit your country’s own mental healthcare website to find local help.
Do not let anger, denial, or pride get in your way from restoring your life! You can be your own worst enemy after a scam!
We hope you find this useful. Please let us know what you think in a comment below.