Be forewarned, I'm not going to be my normal sarcastic cynical smart ass self here. This issue is very serious, and probably doesn't directly affect any of my friends or family, but I'm hoping someone may google "Ghana + love + dating" and find me. Maybe it will help, I don't know.
I also want to say, right up front, that the Ghanaian men and women I'm writing about are entirely in the minority. Most of the young men and women I have had the pleasure to meet and know are honest, hard-working, God-fearing people with integrity enough not to engage in such dubious activities.
On the other hand, while I absolutely cannot condone their actions and mis-deeds, I can say that given the state of the Ghanaian economy, and the desperation that exists for young men and women just out of high school or college, with no good and viable prospects for profitable "legal" employment, the quick buck that can be turned here is much too enticing. I also think that because their crime is "faceless" it makes it that much easier for them to commit. My other thought is that the average young Ghanaian believes that all Americans and all Europeans are rich, consequently they can afford to part with some of their fortune.
I love the internet. It allows me to keep in touch with my loved ones back in the US, follow events happening all over the world, meet new friends, and even order new eyeglasses and car parts. But over the past few months, I have become increasingly aware of a much seamier side to the internet. Internet dating is not a new phenomenon in the US, but the way it is being used to hurt and scam innocent and unsuspecting men and women has gotten so out of hand, that it has been thrust into my domain, so to speak.
Some of you may be aware that I'm the "local expert" for the Accra, Ghana forums on www.tripadvisor.com, a US-based website that helps people plan their trips, and local experts are those who can offer some insight and advice on a particular destination. Well, about a year or so ago, I started seeing a great deal of questions involving issues of an "internet boy or girlfriend" in Ghana who they met on a dating website. When tripadvisor introduced the means to email its members through their server, I was being asked, almost on a daily basis, for help. To this very day, I get them on a regular basis... even one this morning.
Many questions and issues have to do with the sincerity or veracity of the “friend” from Ghana, who urgently needs either money or the shipment of goods to him or her here in Ghana. In the vast majority of cases, all of these poor innocents were being scammed or conned by the Ghanaian friend, whether male or female, it didn't matter.
Stories, and that is really all they are, that have been posted tell of a Ghanaian who needed $400 for a new cell phone which was stolen, though you can buy a new activated cell phone here for as little as $35. Someone else needed work boots and other items sent to him, shipment of which would cost $400 from the States (truly very very expensive to ship to Ghana), yet all those items are easily obtained here in Ghana. Someone else needed $300 because her father was having eye surgery; the cost of a normal doctor visit is less than $5, surgery may run about $100-$140, if that. Someone else needed $3,500 for their mother’s funeral… funerals in Ghana are not like funerals in the USA, and are long drawn out elaborate affairs; “donations” by mourners at the end of the funeral period usually more than cover the cost of the funeral outlay.
The pattern is plain: Gimme, gimme, gimme.
Here are some common sense bits of advice that I've proposed to those people who email me:
Google your "friend's" name and see if you get any hits. Sometimes, the scammers actually do use their real name. One guy from California told me the name of his supposed beautiful (I saw the picture!) Australian born princess, stuck in Accra without money. When I googled her name, it came up with a link to a very attractive black Ghanaian woman on another dating website. Same vital statistics, too.
If the scammer is saying that they are white, and are claiming that they are American or British citizens or Europeans who somehow got “stranded” in Ghana, don’t believe it. Their Embassy would help them in some way, shape or form.
Even if they send you a picture, it may be one that they downloaded from the internet. The beautiful Australian girl's pictures looked (to me) like professional before and after shots from a magazine. If you want to know what they really look like, insist that they go to an internet café that has web cam and your friend should IM you at the same time; all the big internet cafes here in Accra have it, BusyInternet, SmartNet, etc. It's not expensive to do that, maybe like $2.
If the issue is an unpaid doctor or hospital bill, tell them you will send money only to the hospital. Go to Ghanaweb.com and check the directory/phone book for a listing, don’t believe what they tell you. You may even have a "doctor" or "hospital administrator" who will call you and tell you that money is urgently needed. Don't believe it, even here in Ghana, doctor's don't have time for that. Tell them you absolutely won’t send them any money, see how fast they drop you.
Another red flag should be poor English skills; most of these scammers only got as far as junior high school, if that. Yes, I know that computer-speak is different, but you should still be able to tell the difference.
Fake names is another thing the scammer might try. Someone who normally goes through life as Kwame is suddenly Sean Michaels (or as he might spell it, Shorn Michaels since he wouldn't know the proper spelling). You've no doubt heard of Sean Michael, the WWF wrestler? Very popular TV show here in Ghana. Scammers are very unoriginal when it comes to creating a new name.
If someone claims they're from Arizona, you can verify that. Here's a link to a good website that can provide this service. Just have their IP address, which you can find on an email using full headers, and copy and paste it to the IP Locator.
You may have a legitimate person on the other end. It does happen, though very very rarely. And they may really want to be your friend, but the first time they ask you for something, no matter how small, just say NO. It won't take long before the person's true colors show, because they don't have time to dance with someone who doesn't want to pay. There are too many other gullible, anxious, trusting, innocent people in the world.
The bottom line is, don’t lose your heart and your head over an internet romance. Keep your credit cards in your wallet, don't send any money through Western Union, where the recipient only needs the code word to retrieve it, and an ID card. Don't mail anything to them through the post office. Don't offer to cash their "pay checks" or "postal money orders" and send the money to them via Western Union; all are bogus, and you will be liable for the entire amount at your bank, once they realize the money is no good! Once the scammers have got the money or the goods from you, you're out of luck. Always trust your gut instincts.
The owner of an internet cafe in an Accra, Ghana suburb had posted her comments on one of the Accra Ghana forum topics, she said:
"...almost every night (I) witness lots of young men sitting here and can see how they try to get a lady from the United States or Europe. The even ask (me) straight out for the name of a friend over there, so that they could make a contact to find someone to help them to get out of Ghana. Very often they are chatting with more then two ladies at the same time and they can write in such a sweet way and tell fairy tales that it sickens her when she's caught a glimpse of what they've been typing on the PC."
Below are some very helpful links and you can get an idea exactly how pervasive this issue is just based on this partial listing:
Now, I don't want to entirely disillusion you, true love can happen with a Ghanaian. It did for me, and I think that is probably why so many people email me, asking about the culture and the way of life. But of all the cyber relationships I've been made aware of, it was only one that was for real, and I'm happy to say that Shelly and her Ghanaian husband are now happily married. But he didn't lie to her, he didn't ask for anything, he didn't expect anything. Love just happened.
And you shouldn't assume that the people who have asked for my help are in any way shape or form ignorant, naive or stupid. Far from it. Most of them were well educated, middle-aged folks restarting their social lives after divorce, looking for love and friendship, who were just too generous and too trusting.
So, my friends, if you are a cyber-dater, or you know of or have a friend who is cyber-dating, please link them to this blog. It may save them from some pain.
Addendum to this blog, added on Saturday, December 8, 2007:
On the tripadvisor website, someone posted about his recent experience of coming to Ghana and discovering he was a victim of a cyber dating scam. He was very very lucky, it could have been much worse for him. Take a read.