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'I gave him 300,000 euros over five years; I was so in love
Romeo scam victim

'I gave him 300,000 euros over five years; I was so in love

"He knows full well that I have reported him to the police, but keeps calling me saying he loves me," says the victim, a lawyer

Juan Cano

Malaga

Wednesday, 19 April 2023

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Cristina had gone through a rough patch. She had just beaten breast cancer. Next was breast reconstruction and afterwards, for a fleeting moment, she thought she could start rebuilding her personal life. "I left the hospital thinking I had the world at my feet," she admits. She didn't see it coming, but she was about to walk into a web of deceit from which today, five years later, she still hasn't managed to escape.

This interview was conducted after the recent report on the love scam ring involving at least 60 women being conned throughout Spain. The Nigerian gang, operating from Malaga, had defrauded 300,000 euros from just one of the victims. "Yes, that is me," admits Cristina, who agreed to speak only so that others might never have to face what she is still going through.

Her story is completely true, except for her name, not being Cristina and some information about her personal life that she prefers to keep out to protect her privacy. She is closer to 60 than 50 years old. She only offers a general indication as to her profession, broad enough not to identify her: she is a lawyer. "I should have seen him coming from the work I do. But I was blind."

Images of the man’s supposed daughters, sent to the victim

The number the scammer called from

Facebook post that warns of the use of images in fake accounts to try to scam victims.

Images of the man’s supposed daughters, sent to the victim

The number the scammer called from

Facebook post that warns of the use of images in fake accounts to try to scam victims

Images of the man’s supposed daughters, sent to the victim

The number the scammer called from

Facebook post that warns of the use of images in fake accounts to try to scam victims

Images of the man’s supposed daughters, sent to the victim

The number the scammer called from

Facebook post that warns of the use of images in fake accounts to try to scam victims

Cristina had never been on social media, but a friend who was "seeking love" advised her to open a Facebook account. So she did. It was March 2018. Soon after came a friend request from Zico Lawrence, a dashing pilot. "I was surprised. I asked him if he was Portuguese and he told me no, he was from the US." So he was already onto a winner as she had always liked American culture.

The context is important. Cristina is a very trusting person. "I was living on my own and he caught me at a weak moment with no one around to show love and affection. He invited me to continue chatting on WhatsApp and I accepted. He told me that he was US military personnel stationed in Syria and that Taliban fighters had taken his gold and money in an ambush." On 9 March, 2018, she made the first money transfer to him.

Dear Zico Lawrence, good morning and how are you doing today in Germany? Sir, in the name of the Frankfurt airport authority, we are here to remind you that your package is with us, and has stayed more time, in accordance with our agreement of 7 September 2022, we agreed that your package would be delivered to you without delay as soon as you make a possible payment of 16,869 Euros. And we agreed that no additional charges will be made for your package after the aforementioned sum has been paid. However, from 7 September 2022, until now, the money has not been paid. We want to notify you officially that you have from 8 February 2023 to 30 March 2023 to make this payment or your package will be completed. This is your final warning. Thank you, from the secretary of Utte Roseline.

One of the messages sent

to the victim’s mobile phone

Dear Zico Lawrence, good morning and how are you doing today in Germany? Sir, in the name of the Frankfurt airport authority, we are here to remind you that your package is with us, and has stayed more time, in accordance with our agreement of 7 September 2022, we agreed that your package would be delivered to you without delay as soon as you make a possible payment of 16,869 Euros. And we agreed that no additional charges will be made for your package after the aforementioned sum has been paid. However, from 7 September 2022, until now, the money has not been paid. We want to notify you officially that you have from 8 February 2023 to 30 March 2023 to make this payment or your package will be completed. This is your final warning. Thank you, from the secretary of Utte Roseline.

One of the messages sent

to the victim’s mobile phone

Dear Zico Lawrence, good morning and how are you doing today in Germany? Sir, in the name of the Frankfurt airport authority, we are here to remind you that your package is with us, and has stayed more time, in accordance with our agreement of 7 September 2022, we agreed that your package would be delivered to you without delay as soon as you make a possible payment of 16,869 Euros. And we agreed that no additional charges will be made for your package after the aforementioned sum has been paid. However, from 7 September 2022, until now, the money has not been paid. We want to notify you officially that you have from 8 February 2023 to 30 March 2023 to make this payment or your package will be completed. This is your final warning. Thank you, from the secretary of Utte Roseline.

One of the messages sent

to the victim’s mobile phone

Dear Zico Lawrence, good morning and how are you doing today in Germany? Sir, in the name of the Frankfurt airport authority, we are here to remind you that your package is with us, and has stayed more time, in accordance with our agreement of 7 September 2022, we agreed that your package would be delivered to you without delay as soon as you make a possible payment of 16,869 Euros. And we agreed that no additional charges will be made for your package after the aforementioned sum has been paid. However, from 7 September 2022, until now, the money has not been paid. We want to notify you officially that you have from 8 February 2023 to 30 March 2023 to make this payment or your package will be completed. This is your final warning. Thank you, from the secretary of Utte Roseline.

One of the messages sent

to the victim’s mobile phone

The relationship became daily. "One call in the morning and another at night," says Cristina. There is a critical moment in this tale, something that would inevitably cause Cristina to swallow the bait. "He tells me that he is a widower. And I go and tell him about breast cancer. What a coincidence, his wife had also died of the same illness."

It didn't take long for them to confess their mutual love. "He tells you that he has fallen in love with you, that he loves you madly, that his daughters are looking forward to meeting you..."

In those exchanges, he asks for more of her personal data because he wants to send her a package with some of his belongings.

"Reluctantly, I give him my address and he tells me that a diplomat will come to my house. Then, another American [the supposed diplomat] calls me and tells me that he is at the airport, that they have stopped him in Customs and that if I do not pay in the money for the fine being imposed, we are going to be accused of money-laundering," recalls Cristina.

Hello darling I’m not playing games with you

See you tomorrow in Frankfurt

Why don’t you pick up the phone

Gm.. my flight leaves Malaga at 17:10h and arrives at 20:30 h lufthansa

Messages sent to the victim

Hello darling I’m not playing games with you

See you tomorrow in Frankfurt

Why don’t you pick up the phone

Gm.. my flight leaves Malaga at 17:10h and arrives at 20:30 h lufthansa

Messages sent to the victim

Hello darling I’m not playing games with you

See you tomorrow in Frankfurt

Why don’t you pick up the phone

Gm.. my flight leaves Malaga at 17:10h and arrives at 20:30 h lufthansa

Messages sent to the victim

Hello darling I’m not playing games with you

See you tomorrow in Frankfurt

Why don’t you pick up the phone

Gm.. my flight leaves Malaga at 17:10h and arrives at 20:30 h lufthansa

Messages sent to the victim

From that point the real bloodletting began. She had just bought a decent car and had to sell it to give him more money. She sold her mother's house and gave him her share of the proceedings. She sought to borrow from anyone and anything she knew. So she almost ended up "in an even bigger mess" when she went to some money-lenders because, deep down, she had taken on all the hassles that her boyfriend had dumped on her, treating them as though they were problems of her own making.

"I was desperate. He'd swallowed up my mother's inheritance, my fee income ... I kept thinking all the time: 'Let's see if he comes over just once and I get all my money back'. I wanted my life to change. I had that dream." Basically, Cristina was gambling on love, giving away her money in the hope of getting both back in the next spin of the wheel.

This so-called Zico would tell her, to keep her hooked on that dream, that they would buy a huge house in California and that his two daughters would be waiting for them there to create a new, happy family together. He even sent her photos of them as blonde-haired youngsters.

"You could say it was a proper relationship. We talked daily. We even argued, because I'm not exactly submissive. Sometimes I'd get very twitchy and suggest he was scamming me. But he'd convince me that he was doing no such thing. The truth is that I was in love," she admits.

Christmas 2019, and Zico informed her that his bosses were sending him to another location and that he needed money for the plane ticket. He also asked her for more money to buy gifts for the girls and to take them to California.

"I gave him everything. I even gave him the money for first class plane tickets, can you imagine?" explains Cristina, who saw the dream of meeting up with him getting closer and closer.

"I asked him to come to Malaga and then he told me that, when transferring flights in Germany, he had been held up at customs and had to pay a fine."

Good morning darling, how are you? Please, I’m sorry to inform you that I received an urgent call on Wednesday from my superior that I have to go back to Syria. however, I left Germany last night and now I’m in transit in the United Arab Emirates. I’m sorry for not telling you before. Maybe I’ll get in touch when I get to Damascus.

Messages sent to the victim

Good morning darling, how are you? Please, I’m sorry to inform you that I received an urgent call on Wednesday from my superior that I have to go back to Syria. however, I left Germany last night and now I’m in transit in the United Arab Emirates. I’m sorry for not telling you before. Maybe I’ll get in touch when I get to Damascus.

Messages sent to the victim

Good morning darling, how are you? Please, I’m sorry to inform you that I received an urgent call on Wednesday from my superior that I have to go back to Syria. however, I left Germany last night and now I’m in transit in the United Arab Emirates. I’m sorry for not telling you before. Maybe I’ll get in touch when I get to Damascus.

Messages sent to the victim

Good morning darling, how are you? Please, I’m sorry to inform you that I received an urgent call on Wednesday from my superior that I have to go back to Syria. however, I left Germany last night and now I’m in transit in the United Arab Emirates. I’m sorry for not telling you before. Maybe I’ll get in touch when I get to Damascus.

Messages sent to the victim

During the summer of 2020, she spent a month of no contact with him, having tired of his stories, but they soon resumed their relationship.

"It was then he told me that he was returning from Syria and would be going to Madrid. I asked him to come to Malaga and I even sent him 5,000 euros for the tickets. As always, he started again with the excuses that he couldn't come."

And so it went on for five years. "Thanks to me he has learned to speak Spanish. On top of everything, I've given him a master's degree in Spanish. He has learned a lot, even some Malaga slang," continues Cristina, who reassures us that "they" have been very polite in all dealings with her (she uses the plural because she is convinced that only one person would answer the phone, but WhatsApp was handled by several people, including some woman or other). "They study their victims very well. I'm not surprised the police found psychology books in the searches."

This fake romance has cost her almost 300,000 euros, in addition to leaving her depressed and with a burden of debt so bad that she cannot take out anything in her name. She still faces a legal process for the gaping hole in her finances that the fraud has created for her. "I live with what's on my back," confesses Cristina. She continues to repay a family loan, she owes 22,000 euros to one friend and 2,000 to another. "I have now repaid the rest I borrowed from others," she says.

The tale of romance ended when she received a call from the police. Agents from the GIP unit (a specialist police group investigating criminal activities undercover to protect the public), part of the police force for the eastern district of Malaga, were investigating a gang of Nigerians engaged in a romance scam and spotted that Cristina had made a deposit into one of the accounts they were tracking.

Dozens more women

"The inspector told me the whole kit and caboodle, that I wasn't the only one, that there were 60 more women across Spain..."

Cristina filed a complaint at the police station. The gang was arrested and still some of them would not admit defeat. Zico tried to revive their relationship and continue with the fraud.

"He told me that he had informed his chief that someone had impersonated him to defraud women and that the FBI were going to take over the case. He still keeps calling me and says that he loves me very much. He knows perfectly well that I have reported them all, but since they have no morals, they have the audacity to continue trying."

He called again, just the night before the interview. He told her that he is in Syria and that he is in hospital with serious hypertension. "And that's probably true, as he was always complaining about his blood pressure being high." Cristina now suffers from "a bit of Stockholm Syndrome", as she herself admits.

"It has caused me irreparable financial and moral harm. Nowadays I trust no one."

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