Maria Grette, a 62-year-old Swede woman, is yet to believe that cyber criminals bring total loss and destruction to their victims. She decided to visit Nigeria for the sake of a 24-year-old “yahoo yahoo” boy who conned her of some hard-earned cash.
Maria thought she had fallen in love with a 52-year-old Danish man but felt terrible after realizing her online lover was a young Nigerian guy.
However, the painful discovery suddenly changed to something she calls true love because the boy proved so romantic than any man she had met in her life.
According to a story penned for BBC by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, the Swede woman had suffered a traumatic divorce a few years before, and her friends encouraged her to try finding love online.
She says her friends ended up creating an online account in her name but the least expectation she had was an adventure that would finally take her to far away Nigeria.
“The most terrible thing was not that he had cheated me, but that he had lost his innocence,” she said of her scam love.
Maria felt there was a “profound need to make a difference to the people of Nigeria”, after finding out that Johnny [not real name] was a cyber criminal looking out for a desperate woman like her.
The Swede woman who works as a arts teacher, painter and arts therapist, never cared to check her inbox for messages but admits she received alerts once in a while.
“I received messages telling me that people had contacted me, but I never looked at them,” she said.
The long wait somehow ended when, one day, she was driven on impulse to visit the website for messages received.
“I still don’t know why,” she said. “It was like a sudden impulse happening before I could stop it.”
One of the messages which attracted Maria was a particular one from a Dane who described himself as a civil engineer.
The con man wrote in his profile that he was raised in South Carolina, USA, but was working on a contract in England.
Johnny, as he called himself, added that he’s a widower with a son who’s studying in a Manchester university.
“I was caught up by the atmosphere and by something in his words,” she said. This is an excerpt from the online messages between the “lion and its prey”.
Johnny: “I wish I could see through your eyes and see what you like to see.”
Maria: “I like to see the truth, and often the truth is more beautiful and greater than people dare to realize.”
Johnny: “You talk in parables. I can´t wait to see you.”
Maria: “I can’t understand how you can think so dedicated of me, when you have never met me. That scares me.”
“We spent some time writing, then he called from a UK number,” Maria said, admitting that she looked so stupid not to have discovered he was fake from his accent. Having lived in many countries across Europe, it’s still a mystery how she let herself slip into the “yahoo” boy’s hands.
At a time, she was said to have pointed out some errors in the boy’s English but never cared much about that.
Johnny confided in Maria that he was nearing retirement and would like to relocate to Sweden where she lives. He claims to have inherited a house in Denmark from his parents but would like to live it to his son named Nick.
He claimed his son loves the house so much so there’s no plan to sell it. Rather, he hopes to relocate and find a new home for himself, alone in Sweden.
Maria must have dreamt of a husband without a child to pose some sort of obstacles to them and she was excited about the plans. It would be a dream come true for her to have Johnny all to herself.
“I wanted to meet him because I liked him,” she said.
“He had a way and a sweetness I had never known in a man before. And he was innocent in a way that puzzled me.”
Maria said the young man proved himself a great husband-to-be, with claims that his “rare qualities” come from an “an old fashioned upbringing and an isolated life – living in hotels and spending his free time on golf courses owing to much travelling”.
Thinking she had found exactly what suits her taste, three months passed and the lovebirds completed plans that Johnny would visit her in Sweden. But not so fast.
Johnny explained that his son Nick had to attend an interview in Nigeria.
Then he followed up with a call from Heathrow Airport, using a cloned phone number to prove he was in the United Kingdom and about leaving for Nigeria.
Johnny landed in Nigeria with his son a few hours later, and he called her again to inform they’ve safely arrived. Maria also got a chance to speak with Nick.
The next time Maria heard from Johnny was that armed robbers attacked him and Nick, who was shot in the head. How terrible for Nigeria!
He went ahead with his tearful explanations, saying they were in a Lagos hospital without cash or travel documents. Worse still, his bank in the U.K. had no branch in Nigeria or Africa.
For these reasons, he says Maria shouldn’t consider sending money to his London bank account. Instead, he suggested Western Union Cash Transfer.
At that time, he also claims the hospital had requested a total of 1,000 Euros to proceed with urgent treatment.
These are his messages to Maria: “Honey, I am in the hospital right now using the doctor´s laptop to send you this message so you can know my situation.
“Honey, if Nick dies I will also die with him, I have been crying, I wish I could call you, I wish I never came here, I will never forgive myself for bringing Nick along with me.
“I will call you with the doctor´s phone and send you an email later if I have the chanse.”
He continued: “Honey, I am happy to hear from you and I am still at the hospital. The doctor said we where lucky we where not kidnapped. The bank does not have a location in Africa, so it will take time to get money and the management are requesting 1000 euros to proceed with treatment. Nick is all I have got and I will not forgive myself if anything happens to him. I am confused, and I do not know where to turn at the moment……”
“I will never forget how I rushed to the Western Union office, trembling while I did the transfer,” a kind-hearted Maria said she was deeply touched by his words, not just the terrible incident.
“All I could think of was to get the two persons in Nigeria out of danger,” she added.
According to the story from Maria, the request for money continued and never seemed to be ending. She sent cash for medical complications after the first 1,000 Euros.
Doctors also demanded for advance fees to continue treatments, and she sent cash which totaled to several thousands of Euros. The scam continued until she “came to her senses”.
Maria needn’t a soothsayer to tell her something was wrong. Then she stopped responding to messages from Johnny.
A few weeks passed after the cash transfers stopped, and the “yahoo boy” felt pity or got a heavenly touch. He called the Swede woman for a true confession.
The Nigerian boy heartily confessed to not being who she thought he was. But Maria says she already knew the truth at that point.
In her words: “I said I already knew that. I asked him to tell me his true identity and he did.”
“He was a 24-year-old Nigerian ‘419’ scammer. He had finished university two years earlier but had no job.”
Maria continued in her lecture: “These kind of advance fee frauds are known as 419 scams in Nigeria after the section of the Criminal Code which covers fraud.
“He further described himself as a ‘devil’ who had wronged ‘a lovely woman’.
“He said he had never met anyone like me before, that he had been fighting his feelings for me for a long time.
“He said his scamming mates had warned him about falling in love with a ‘client’, that he had ignored them because he trusted me and did not want to lose contact with me.”
Those were the last words that tingled Maria’s spine.
The confession quickly spiraled into a love affair with no further requests for cash.
She said: “The attraction I started feeling was to the person who was revealing himself to me… It was still him, but with a new name and different age and circumstances.”
Though Johnny sent a picture of himself to her, she wasn’t satisfied with the image. Maria just wanted to set eyes on this awesome young man who captivated her soul with the sweetest words she ever heard from a man.
“I wanted to meet him,” she said. “I could not live with this relationship unless it was adjusted to reality in all senses.”
The Swede woman said she was unable to get a visa for Johnny to visit her in the country so she made up her mind to travel down to Nigeria for the first time in her life. That was in October 2009.
“When I saw him at the airport in Abuja, tears fell over his face, and I knew I had known him all my life,” she reveals.
Ms Grette described her two weeks in Nigeria as blissful, a period during which she and Johnny succeeded in transforming their romantic feelings for each other into a good friendship. She met his friends, many of whom were also scammers.
It was while enjoying their company one night in a local bar that she began to wonder how she could make a difference.
“I asked myself what I could do to prevent a situation where healthy, good young men fall into this trap,” she said, according to the report.
An idea came to her two years later, in 2011, after she saw an article on a Nigerian news website about an arts exhibition. Over the past six years, Maria has arranged for a number of African artists to visit Europe for arts exhibitions, workshops, conferences and competitions. She has assisted them to source international grants and other funding to advance their work. She has also visited Uganda to give talks on art, and is looking forward to another visit to Nigeria scheduled for later this year.
Maria, now 69 and living in Norway, is elated at the opportunity to improve the lives of these young artists.
“Johnny has given me more than he took,” she said, “Without him, I would not have met Africa.”
When she’d visited him in Abuja, Johnny promised Maria that he would give up scamming. With her assistance, he left Nigeria shortly afterwards, to study in America.
Although they have not met each other again since, she continued to provide him with financial assistance until he completed his degree a few years ago and got a job in the American oil sector.
They still communicate frequently, updating themselves on each other’s lives; and last year, he bought one of her paintings which she shipped over to him in America.
“He is very dear to me,” she said. “He has asked me so many times to forgive him and I told him that the most important thing is to forgive himself.”