The full scale of scams on dating sites involving Luxembourg residents is not known because so many cases go unreported
Marie* no longer signs up to dating website. She doesn’t trust them anymore. Not since she was drawn into an elaborate scam in which she nearly lost €15,000.
Recalling the experience at the Midi du consommateur européen on Wednesday, the Luxembourger says that one year on, she is still shaken by what happened. “Today I’m a bit nervous still about it,” she says. “For me it was a real story but afterwards I stopped believing it.”
Marie’s relationship began after she met Martin Johnson through a dating site. The man claimed he was a British entrepreneur who had lived in Luxembourg previously and whose ill mother still lived there.
“She was ill with cancer therefore he was in Luxembourg. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have contacted him,” Marie recalls. The pair remained in touch, he sent her flowers but they never met as both were busy with their own lives. Martin claimed he had a house in London that he planned to sell and also intended to sell his business. He told Marie that he wanted to buy a property in Luxembourg.
Then he claimed he had to go to Peru for work. He sent Marie photos and flight details and said he would meet her in Luxembourg in person when he returned. “In Peru he told me suddenly that he had a problem with his bank to buy the material. Could I lend him the money? I thought if I had a written guarantee, a copy of his passport and address in England, it would be enough to be secure.”
Marie didn’t hesitate and transferred money to a UK bank account. Then, she received a call from the Martin’s lawyer saying there had been an accident involving his technicians. He needed money to pay for their healthcare.
“His lawyer called me all the time. He said that he knew this guy for 20 years, and that he was a serious man. He was so happy I could help him,” Marie said. She added that she even received a call from someone posing at Martin’s daughter, Katie, in the US. She heard again from the man claiming to be Martin. This time he asked for money to pay for the treatment of the injured technicians.
During their last call, he said he was being jailed for failing to pay. The entire exchange lasted one month, during which Marie had been compliant, until her bank who flagged up the payment. It blocked the payment and Marie was able to get back most of the €15,000 she transferred to the UK account.
But, her story shows the scale and complexity of the types of scams which prey on people in Luxembourg.
Scams in Luxembourg
“The fact we’re organising this type of conference for the second time shows there’s a need to inform consumers and that there are a lot of scams,” director of the Centre Européen des Consommateurs Karin Basenach told Delano on Wednesday. “We don’t have statistics [on the number of incidents]. But, because we’re talking about emotions and you can imagine that not everyone is ready to talk to us and make a complaint. I can’t imagine the number of cases we don’t know about.”
Wednesday’s conference was organised in partnership with IT and communications awareness raising and education platform Bee Secure, and formed part of the organisation’s last campaign in relation to love and relationships. Bee Secure trainer Jacques Federspiel said that the most common kinds of scams in this respect concerned sextortion, in which men and women form an online relationship with another person who convinces them to undress to camera. “Once you’re naked, they switch directly and want to get money from you,” he said, explaining that the extortionists threaten to publish the footage if the victim does not pay.
“It happens at all levels of society: you see it happening to people who are well-educated, directors, doctors, everyone,” Bee Secure coordinator Judith Swietlik-Simon added. She estimates that there are several hundred such cases recorded annually, although it is likely that many more go unreported. Luxembourg’s size and relative wealth also make its residents easy prey for sextortion.
“We’re a small country, everyone knows everyone. It’s easier to pay and not go to police, who might also be your neighbour,” said Federspiel. He added, however, that in the majority of cases, sextortionists’ threats to take the footage public, were usually empty. “They don’t want to be exposed either,” he said of the extortionists.