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Russia-based Internet Scam Hustles Lonely Western Men - November 4, 2004

As she sends e-mail with her photograph to men around the world, Nadezhda Medvedeva calls to the lonely in just the right voice.

If circumstances were different, she might make a fine wife. She is young, brown-eyed and curvy, a pediatric dentist who quotes 19th-century poetry and cooks delicious meals. She lives near the Caspian Sea, but is eager to travel. Her Russian is fluent; her English, not bad.

Medvedeva is also cautious, even demure. It is only after she grows comfortable with a suitor that she will reveal the depth of her longing. Then nothing can hold her back.

"Hi, my Lion!" she wrote to Steven Rammer of Denver, Pa., as they planned a passionate rendezvous at his home. "Hi, my soul!"

That rendezvous never happened. Nor did another she arranged for two days later with George Palin, who waited in vain in Montana.

No matter how long the trail of the jilted, Nadezhda ("call me Nadia") Medvedeva is neither a tease prone to second thoughts nor an overbooked online tramp. She is not even a person. She is bait.

Medvedeva is one of scores, perhaps hundreds, of fictional characters in a resurgent Internet hustle that has become a Russian boom industry this year. Using fake names, forged visas and snapshots of young Russian women, a new crop of online swindlers is luring Western victims into confidence games.

Each is an escalating flirtation between an unsuspecting man and a Russian grifter masquerading as a young woman. It typically ends when the victim wires money to Russia to pay for visas and airfare for a consummation of the affair. Then the beloved disappears.

The targets are men in the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand who have posted personal advertisements on the Internet.

The U.S. Embassy here is receiving between five and 10 inquiries from U.S. citizens about it every day, a U.S. diplomat said. Some of the guys were literally left waiting at the airport with roses, she said.

Most victims lose from $300 to a few thousand dollars, although one man was defrauded of $11,000, the diplomat said. The number of men duped is at least in the hundreds, but it may be much larger with many unwilling to admit they were scammed.

Modern Russia is in many ways an incubator for such crimes. It has a highly literate population that suffers from low wages and soaring unemployment, conditions that can breed hustlers. It offers them an environment in which they can work, including uneven law enforcement, a language many find impenetrable, strict visa rules and vast geographical spaces that all but ensure few fooled Americans could ever find the tricksters.

Rammer and Palin gave The New York Times the correspondence they had received from the person pretending to be Medvedeva. The string of e-mail messages shows how the game works.

In June the correspondent sent an e-mail message to Rammer, replying to a personal advertisement he had posted on, an online dating service.

A long-distance conversation began. More e-mail followed, each message with an attached photograph.

The character of Medvedeva was slowly revealed. She is educated but of limited means. She knows popular Western films and classical Russian music. She provides dental care to orphans. She had a boyfriend, but he beat her. Now she is alone.

As the exchange intensified, the grifter accepted pictures from Rammer, sent back compliments and answered questions he had posed. Two messages included pictures of Medvedeva in a bikini.

On July 13, Medvedeva's character admitted it: She had fallen in love. "In my soul, I feel contentment and joy when I think of you," she wrote.

Two days later the plot took its essential twist: Her boss notified her that she had a vacation due. She wanted to visit her new man. The July 16 message began, in imperfect English, "I with trembling heart waited your letter."

Then came the rub. Can you help with travel costs?

Anatoly Platonov, the spokesman for the K Department of Russia's Ministry of Internal Affairs, which investigates Internet crimes, said the criminals who send these messages are almost always men and that they use the same scripts to correspond with hundreds, even thousands, of foreign men at once.

The person posing as Medvedeva was simultaneously flirting with Palin, having found his personal ad on He received virtually identical email.

The poser sent them e-mail about a nervous wait for an American visa, and then a copy of the visa after it was approved.

The visa was a forgery, made from a scan of an authentic visa, retouched by computer to include a new face and personal data.

The ruse worked. Both Rammer and Palin wired Medvedeva money to help with costs. Rammer sent $300; Palin $720.

The identity of the person who duped them remains unknown, although whoever it was has been active: Medvedeva is listed as a phoney bride-to-be on Internet blacklists, which are regularly updated by bilked men. Her picture has also been used under the name Tatyana Kuzminyh and Anna Kruglova.

The first ring the authorities broke up, in 2002, consisted of two young men and a woman who sent e-mail from the city of Yoshkar-Ola, in the Ural Mountains. "It turned out that all this effort was organized by a 21-year-old boy."

Some scammers have even created websites posing as travel agencies and backed them up with "employees" who take calls from foreign men asking about their date's airfare and reservations.

And three weeks ago, the diplomat said, the first gay victims began to complain.

source: The Record (Waterloo Region)

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