Google Hangouts, the Internet giant’s answer to Facebook and other social media outlets, is a fertile hunting ground for organized crime groups that could be fronts for the Islamic State.
They are using the service to con tens of thousands of dollars from unwitting users through blackmail and sex and marriage scams, a special IM investigation has learned.
First in a Series
TheImproper’s six-week investigation barely scratches the surface on the level of organized activity. But the probe uncovered concrete evidence that well organized groups are prowling social media site Google Hangouts for victims.
There is a special place in hell for people who pray on the kindness, generosity and loneliness of others. But our investigation discovered a more sinister, temporal threat–the Islamic State and other terror groups.
Lonely Heart Scams: How They Do It The women, working on a commission basis from an “office,” set up false profiles, typically on internet dating sites. They find their victims and then enter into correspondence with a lot of people simultaneously using a pre-arranged script. They first ask for money for the visa, and then for other expenses. Once one of their victim forwards money using Western Union or Money Gram, they notify their bosses. After the money is collected, the ‘worker’ receives their commission. They will then try to get more money out of the victim. However, once someone sends money for a ticket that is usually the last they hear from the “true love.”
Google Hangouts site has few controls and multiple avenues for deception that makes it perfect for the Islamic State and other groups to raise funds surreptitiously through various scams.
During the course of our investigation, IM was able to penetrate two distinct groups of scammers. They went to extreme lengths to lure us into their sex and blackmail trap.
All conversations were recorded.
In each case, the process began when a young attractive female asked to join our circle. In our case, four different women asked to join IM’s Google-Plus, which was set up in the name of IM Editor & Publisher Keith Girard.
Google’s social media platform is conducive to scams because it allows private chat conversations between circle members. In each case, the women used Google’s private chat to initiate contact.
The women also engaged in identity theft to set up their profiles to cover their tracks.
One instance involved a woman who said her name was Carine Surgars. She said she worked for Medical Pharmacies Group Inc., , a French conglomerate. She also said she attended St Therese’s School, a well-known French Catholic school.
But the IM investigation was able to determine that the identity actually belonged to another woman, who was not related to the scam.
The effort was clearly organized, because the two women we spoke with followed the same script, almost word-for-word. Carine was also assisted by a man who often posed as her in conversations.
Carine set up the scam by claiming she was an only child; her parents were dead. She said she had just gone through a devastating breakup with her boyfriend. She had been without sex for six months, she said, and yearned to find a “true love” to marry.
–Francoise Shaibend: Anatomy of Sex, Money, Marriage Scam on Google Plus
–Google Sex Scam Queen: ‘Devil in Flesh of a Fairy’ Preys on Lonely Heart Men
A second woman, Francois Shaibend , gave us the exact same story.
The women involved proved to be well-school in deception. But sometimes they tripped up on simple details that revealed their fraud.
Carine, for example, initially posed as a pious conservative French Catholic girl. She said she was looking for a similarly religious husband. She said she not only attended Catholic school, but attended church every week and devoutly believed in God.
Yet, when she was asked about the Papal Schism of 1378, which laid the foundation for the French Catholic Church, she didn’t know anything about it.
The Papal Schism is taught in every French Catholic school and underlies the religion today. But she was clueless, a major red flag.
Although the IM investigation initially focused on four women, we chose to respond to Francois and Carine. We wanted to learn how they operated. What we found was shocking.
We let Francois play out her scam unimpeded from start to finish, which of course ended with a plea for money. She never knew we were onto her.
In the second instance, IM confronted Carine. We revealed our evidence of identity theft and other mis-steps exposing her fraud. We hoped to shame her into dropping her ruse, thinking she would discuss the scam with us candidly.
But she proved to be tough and determined. At one point, we asked to see her driver’s license or passport to prove her identity. She refused to do so and abruptly ended the conversation.
After that, we thought she would move on. But shockingly she continued contacting us. Throughout our sometimes heated confrontations over her identity, she stuck doggedly to her script.
Indeed, she doubled down on the deception. She insisted she was telling the truth, pleaded for trust and swore she wanted marriage. She continued to contact us even after we told her it was over.
The hook she and Francois tried to use was the promise of love, marriage, children–and sex.
She professed her deep love over and over, and her wish to get married. We talked about baby names, how many children we wanted, intimate conversations that real lovers often share. But her motive was heartless and cruel.
She repeatedly asked us to trust her and promised she would never hurt us.
There may have been a good reason for her efforts.
IM invited her into our life, which incuded a garage full of expensive cars, a sprawling country mansion and a well-appointed New York City apartment.
The identity meshed perfectly with her ploy.
“One of the cruelest scams is the Lonely Hearts Scam,” according to a Web site devoted to Internet fraud.
“With this scam people are fooled into thinking that they have met their ‘true love’ online. The victim then sends their ‘true love’ money so they can meet,” according to the site. Once they get the money, the disappear or come back for more.
The scams originated on online dating sites. But most major sites have cracked down on fraudulent profiles. Google hangouts, however, is wide open. Scammers appear to be setting up shop there in droves.
Carine’s story fit the scam to a tee. She said she’d just ended a year-long relationship, after discovering her boyfriend was sleeping with a “friend of a friend.”
Devastated, she said she decided to be “guided by God.” He would help her find her “one true love” on, of all places, the Internet. That brought her to our doorstep.
While she appeared to closely follow a script, she didn’t hesitate to modify her approach when necessary.
During one conversation, we told her we weren’t particularly religious. Suddenly her devout Catholicism faded to the background.
As for Christian morals, Carine had no problem performing a striptease–twice– over Skype as our “relationship” deepened.
Carine, incidentally, is a beautiful woman with long auburn hair, whimsical eyes and at 5-feet, 8-inches tall, a model’s body. We figured her to be in her mid-twenties, but she insisted she was 33 years old. On her Google platform, she claims to be 37.
She simply said she looked younger than her age. But we suspect she was trying to close the age gap between her and older men to make her seem a more plausible match.
The conversations with her, conducted over Google Hangouts chat and Skype, were often deeply intimate, with intense conversations about sex and a future of marriage and children “with my man.”
We made up nicknames for each other. We talked how it felt to be deeply in love. All the while, she professed how lonely she was.
Yet IM was able to obtain a list of her Skype contacts. It contained more than two dozen men, all about the same age. They were located in Britain, Europe and all over the world.
In fact, Carine has more than 800 followers in her Google Hangouts. They are overwhelmingly men. Presumably she proposed to marry them all.
As the conversations progressed both women peppered their deception with scantily clad photos, each more risque than the last. The intent was clearly to keep the conversation going.
All of the women who contacted us were French, or professed to be French. But they raised at least the possibility of a terrorist connection because of their ties to African locations.
Carine said she was French, but she spoke to us during our entire conversation from the Ivory Coast. The African nation and former French colony, has a surly reputation.
It’s known as a trans-shipment point for South American cocaine destined for Marseilles in France. It’s also known as a haven for money laundering.
Islamic terrorists are known to be active in the country, evidence by the devastating attack on tourists Sunday (Mar. 13). At least four men armed with AK47s and hand grenades killed 16 people, including four Europeans, in the historic town of Grand Bassam.
The men are said to have links to al Qaeda, according to London’s Daily Mail.
Our conversation took a chilling turn, when we discovered we weren’t necessarily talking to Carine in every conversation.
IM’s Skype is equipped with software to record audio and video calls. Because of language differences all conversations were conducted in writing. Nonetheless, we kept our audio on to record possible background conversations.
During one discussion with “Carine,” it actually paid off. We learned we were actually talking with a man, who had stupidly left his audio on.
We could hear him coughing and hacking in a husky voice, as he pounded heavily on his keyboard. Yet the conversation–as it appeared on Skype–was intimate and genteel. He wrote about love and marriage. He played the role to the hilt, albeit clumsily.
We also noticed distinct differences in syntax and sentence structure that clearly suggested someone else was on the line.
That prompted us to go back over our chat records.
We discovered subtle differences in syntax and sentence structure in other conversations as well. It clearly suggested we were talking with different people at different times, even though Carine was supposed to be our only contact.
As Carine continued with her scam, she and/or her group were also suspicious of us. During conversations, she would asked us to scan the room with our Skype cam. She wanted to see if we were actually where we said we were.
In another instance, she–or we suspect the man posing as her–insisted that we call her cell phone so she could have our phone number “close to her heart.”
After we feigned outrage about her suspicion, she/he admitted she was trying to determine our location by observing the country code from our call.
The fact that we were being manipulated was sometimes obvious.
On a couple of occasions, she suddenly and heatedly accused us of being married with children, especially during intimate moments. On other occasions, she asked us to turn on our camera when the conversation turned sexual.
The effort appeared to be an attempt build evidence for a possible blackmail attempt. At least twice she asked to see our “little head” on camera.
Following my encounter with the coughing man, I spoke to the real Carine, who had turned on her camera to confirm her identity.
I thanked her profusely for agreeing so willingly the night before to have anal and oral sex. She said, without hesitation, that she would do it for “her man.”
Trouble is, the conversation never took place. We made it up to test her. She had no clue what was said, a clear indication someone else was posing as her. We said nothing about the contradiction.
But this would become par for the course. The fact is, many men think they are talking to women in these Internet relationships. But unless there is confirmation by camera, chances are the victims are talking to men posing as the women.
On our night of romance with the hacking man, for example, he refused several times to turn on the camera, claiming the Internet connection was bad, another clear red flag.
Francois’s scam incorporated nearly all of the same elements, but it was impossible to determine her exact location or her sex. For all we know, she could have been a man as well.
She refused to use Skype or a camera and would only communicate through Google Hangouts Chat.
Franscois clearly lacked the sophistication of Carine’s criminal enterprise, which suggested she could have been acting alone. Yet, both women went to great lengths to perpetrate their frauds.
Amid the shower of semi-nude photos, Francois even sent us photos of her purported pet dog, a black poodle, named Mido.
But when we asked for a photo of her with the dog, she said she didn’t have one. Was it just another prop to ease our suspicion?
Francois also talked at length about her desire to get married, and she talked intimately about sex. But before too long, she steered the conversation to money.
Like Carine, she also had an African connection. She said she routinely traveled to Casablanca, Morocco, on business. She claimed she bought and sold Moroccan art work. After teeing us up with small talk, she set us up for the take down.
She told us she was planning to travel to Morocco via Paris to buy goods. A few days later, she contacted us to say she was in Paris to arrange financing for her Moroccan trip. That’s when a problem arose. She couldn’t get the money she needed.
So, she asked for our help. She said she only needed $2,000. We could easily send it to her via Western Union, she added. We decided to start scamming the scammer.
To put her off without raising suspicion, we said the U.S. government had recently enacted tough, new restrictions on money transfers outside the country because of our war with the Islamic State.
Our bank, we said, would likely block a transfer by Western Union because there was no business connection between us. So, she immediately suggested other fraudulent methods.
She said she would pose as our wife to ease the transaction. Then she agreed to open a bank account in our name only, so the transfer would not arouse suspicion.
But when we told her she would need to deposit a countervailing balance equal to the amount we were depositing, she balked at the idea.
We said we would travel to Paris with the money, so we could finally consummate our love before her trip. She quickly balked at that idea, as well.
When we asked her if she might need more money, given the complications; she upped her request to $3,500. The money, of course, was never transferred.
But we got what we wanted; she played her hand, giving us a window into her method of operation and her attempted fraud.
It’s clear these women have no real interest in meeting or getting married. Carine was much more subtle in her approach, but finally began hinting she wanted money.
After more than two weeks of conversation, she let us know she liked expensive clothes. She modeled a Ralph Lauren shirt.
We offered to meet her in Cannes to consummate our love. We also promised to take her shopping and to buy her anything she wanted. Not surprisingly, she declined.
With her fraud clearly established, we finally ended our relationship with a brutal putdown. Our final words to her were simply “fuck off.” Yet the next day, she reached out to us again, begging to continue the relationship.
We have calls out to Google, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for their reaction. We are also reaching out to authorities in France and the Ivory Coast.
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