Third in a Series
Google sex and marriage scams all have one thing in common, a strikingly attractive woman. The are diverse, invariably young and desperately seeking true love, marriage and children. But no one has figured into more scams than an angel-faced beauty described by one victim as a “devil in the flesh of a fairy.”
Her name is Carine, or Miriam, or Liliane, depending on any one of several profiles posted on Google Plus, according to an IM special investigation of the search engine’s social media site.
The scams appear to be based out of France, or the former French colonies of Ivory Coast and Mali. The latter are hotbeds of extremist Islamic groups. Only last week Ivory Coast was rocked by a deadly terror attack.
A terrorist connection could not be determined by the limited scope of IM’s investigation. But we discovered concrete evidence that organized groups are running the scams out of the terrorist hotbeds.
One group also revealed a Luxembourg connection, suggesting it had roots in Europe as well.
Given the lack of safeguards on Google’s social media site and the ease that fake profiles can be created, groups like al Qaeda could easily be perpetrating similar scams to raise money for terror attacks.
So far, Google has not returned calls to answer questions about the abuse of its social media service.
It’s hard to know how effective the scams are. But they are pursued aggressively by the predators who operate them. One of the woman’s profiles had more than 800 connections, all men in their 30s to early 60s.
The conversations began casually enough over Google Chat, also known as a Google Hangout. The service is noted for its privacy. In some cases Skype is also used. Soon enough, the conversation turns to love and marriage and invariably ends with a plea for money.
The mystery woman first contacted us using the Google profile of a woman named Carine Surgers. It said she worked for Medical Pharmacies Group Inc., a French conglomerate.
The profile said she attended St Therese’s School, girl’s Catholic school in Caen, a town in Northwest France, where she also said she lived.
Although she provided a fairly detailed backstory about her life, several discrepancies quickly raised red flags. As it turned, out she’d stolen the identity used on the profile. We discovered the profile of the real Carine Surgers on a French executive networking site.
Despite claiming to be a devout Catholic who attended church everyday, she knew surprisingly little about French Catholicism. Her profile said she lived in Caen, but her Skype account said she was located in Marseille in the south of France.
During our initial conversations, she said she was traveling to the Ivory Coast to close out some of her father’s business affairs following his death. In fact, she may be based out of the African country. A trace of her computer’s IP address led to the Abidjan, the country’s major industrial city.
A retired French executive who has traveled extensively in the Middle East and Africa, including the Ivory Coast, said Carine’s language skills were rudimentary. That suggested French was her second language, or that she could be an native of French equatorial Africa.
The executive, who assisted with IM’s investigation in exchange for remaining anonymous, was also contacted by the mystery women and told the same story we’d heard. She was in the Ivory Coast on business while desperately searching for true love on the Internet.
In fact, the woman may have been only tangentially involved in the scam, or possibly even not at all. Sessions recorded by IM during our investigation revealed that at least one man posed as her on Skype.
During most conversations, we asked Carine to video verify her identity over Skype. She always complied.
But we later learned the videos were pre-recorded. We simply asked her to perform easy tasks, like holding up fingers, touching her nose, or flashing a peace sign. She never did.
It was also possible to tell, from changes in phrasing and syntax, that we were talking with different people at different times. All conversations were in writing in French.
That led to our conclusion the scam was an organized effort likely involving several people. Lonely heart scams are as old as the Internet and sprang up with the proliferation of online-dating sites.
Most major sites have since cracked down on fake profiles making it harder for scammers to operate. But Google’s social media site appears to be a wide open and a haven for scammers.
Russian and Eastern European organized crime groups were behind early scams. There’s no reason to believe terror groups haven’t adopted their tactics to scam money from unwitting victims.
The mystery surrounding “Carine” deepened when we discovered another Google profile featuring her. This time, the name on her profile was Miriam Delpech.
She declined to video verify, claiming she did not know how to use Skype and would only talk on Google chat.
Miriam’s story is similar to Carine’s with a few changes in detail. She said she lived in Mali, a former French colony that borders the Ivory Coast. She added that she lived with her mother and sister and worked as a waitress in a restaurant.
— Google Hangouts a Haven for Scams, Possible Conduit for Islamic State
— 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
She said her sister was 10-years-old, raising the chilling prospect that child pornography might be an element of her scam. We asked her to verify her identity with a photo. The woman in the photo was identical to Carine.
There is no indication the two scams are related, even though their background stories were similar as was their quest to find love on the Internet. But both the Mali and Ivory Coast groups had numerous photos of the same women the each claimed to be.