SCARS™ Insight: Ghana Scammer Study – Rationalizing Online Romance Fraud

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SCARS™ Insight: Ghana Scammer Study – Rationalizing Online Romance Fraud

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SCARS™ Insight: Ghana Scammer Study – Rationalizing Online Romance Fraud

In the Eyes of the Offender

This study seeks to understand romance scam from the offenders’ perspective and how they rationalize their motivations, opportunities and abilities towards the commission of the crime. To this end, we adopt the Motivation-Opportunity-Ability framework and the Rationalization dimension of the Fraud Triangle Theory. The study employed a qualitative methodological approach to analyze the opportunities presented by emerging technologies to cyber fraudsters amid socio-economic drivers. One is the interplay of various socio-economic factors being a major driving force behind the commission of cybercrime.



These include peer recruitment and training, poverty, unemployment, low level of education and low income. The uniqueness of this study stems from the fact that it deviates from previous studies to investigate cybercrime from the perspective of the perpetrators. Again, this study is arguably one of the first to put all three dimensions of the MOA framework and the rationalization dimension of the Fraud Triangle to study romance scammers’ behaviors.

This study sought to consolidate how online romance fraudsters rationalize their motivations, opportunities available in the environment and their ability to commit online romance scams. Using a qualitative approach, four romance fraud perpetrators who operated as a group and six independent cybercrime perpetrators were interviewed and observed. The findings of this study brought to bear some findings with respect to the drivers, opportunity and ability of cybercriminal activities.

  • First, an interplay of various socioeconomic factors is a major driving force behind the commission of cybercrime. These include peer recruitment and training, poverty, unemployment, low level of education and low income.
  • Second, cybercrime perpetrators ride on the availability of affordable technologies and network services.
  • Third, the lack of confidence in law enforcement grants cybercriminals the opportunity to commit crimes. Again, online romance scammers possess basic computer and social skills which helps them in the commission of online scams. Finally, they find justifications to make sense of their unlawful behaviors.

Quick Findings

The main source of data for this study was collected among a cybercrime syndicate, which started in 2015. The group operates with four male members and female affiliates. The coming together of the group was as a result of specialization. The chief informant avers that “people in this business have their strengths and weaknesses… I am very good at shopping. One of the guys is also good at chatting clients”.

Evidence from the data collected for this study suggested that peer recruitment and training, poverty, unemployment, low level of education and low-income influence individuals’ decisions to commit romance scams.

In considering the motivations for the commission of internet crimes, a complete explanation must ultimately consider the sociocultural environments in which people conduct their daily lives. This then leads the discussion to the configurations of the forces in the environment of a person that enables the person’s work performance; opportunity.

Evidence from the data points to the fact that cybercriminals’ targets are mostly westerners desperately seeking romantic relationships.

While one of the respondents believe, the victims are wealthy and for that matter do not lose anything when they are scammed, an astonishing revelation was when one of the group members said:

“They are credit cards from the Osama Bin Laden Bombing… those who died didn’t die with their cards.”

Even though this assertion may not be directly related to online romance fraud, the respondent believed the victims of the September 11 World Trade Center attack still have their monies on their cards and for that matter they are robbing from no one.

Again, online romance scam fraudsters interviewed for this study rationalize their activities as not being as dangerous as traditional crimes like robbery and murder.

For example, a respondent claimed that “No one can judge me with what I am doing unless a judge tells me that I am a criminal; nobody can call me a criminal.”

He is of the view that cybercriminal activities are standard practices that people commit even without knowing.

He again questions that “those who have been downloading movies from pirate sites, do they pay? Do you call them cyber criminals?”.

The respondent further maintains that cybercrime is less a crime than traditional crimes “it is better to do something than do nothing… I can’t go and rob people … No, it is bad to do that”.

Romance scammers also claim that they take advantage of greedy, gullible and unintelligent westerners who are slow at identifying scam relationships. This, they believe, is a payback for
the pain inflicted on their ancestors by the westerners during the era of the slave trade. This finding even though is in line with the research of Monica Whitty (2018) the claim of 9/11 victims being the target seems to be an eyeopener.


IMPORTANT NOTE: The authors of this study are not agreeing or apologizing for the scammers. Their job is to help us understand why they scam and how they justify it. The researchers do believe it is wrong and are working to find ways to solve the problem.

Rationalizing Online Romance Fraud RSN Version

We thank Professors: Jonathan Nii Barnor Barnor, Richard Boateng, Emmanuel Awuni Kolog, and Anthony Afful-Dadzie of the University of Ghana Business School for making their research available to us.


TAGS: SCARS, Scammer Motivation, Scammer Rationalization, Scammer Opportunity, Scammer Ability, Rationalization., Anti-Scam, Scams, Scammers, Fraudsters, Cybercrime, Crybercriminals, Romance Scams, Ghana, Ghana Scammers, Ghana Fraudsters, Ghana Study

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