The Russians are coming!

Have you ever received spam from Russian women looking for a man? Usually it’s roughly the same story (often in broken English), nice picture attached underneath…

For example, meet my new friend Irina:

Hello my friend.
My  name  Irina, I have addressed in agency of acquaintances in search
of the man, and to me have given your electronic address that I could write and get acquainted to you with you, now, I will tell to you not much about myself. I the lonely good and beautiful girl, I very much wish to find the man with which, I can construct serious relations, I do not smoke and I do not drink, I go in for sports, I love rest, to walk on coast, to have a rest on the beautiful nature, at me it is a lot of interests and I think, that it very much to like you.
I very much want, that you have written me on mine e-mail the address: 
irishechkaira@ymail.com
it is the address with which, I write to you and I think that you will answer me very soon, I will tell to you about myself I will send you the best photos and I think, that we can learn with you each other on much better as you, I have put in this letter the photo you can look at me. I will wait for your letter, I think that you very soon will answer me. Your future friend Irina.

IrinaIm

Well, I’ve never been on a Russian dating site or anything, so the stories of how they got my email address or that they liked ‘my profile’ or such, that’s all nonsense. Another thing is that the email always comes from a completely different address (and name) than the one they tell you to use in the message (which is usually a free service such as gmail, hotmail or yahoo). So it looks like the mails are sent through hacked computers or fake accounts. Like a lot of spam, perhaps with a botnet of zombie PCs.

I figured that other people probably would have gotten the same email, if it was indeed some kind of spam/mass mailing thing… And indeed, when I googled for the email address, I found the exact same mail with the exact same picture posted on a blog somewhere.

One of them caught my eye in particular, as it was in my native language (with Google Translate or such). How did they know? I suspect that they harvest e-mail addresses (and apparently even nationalities) by scanning through online forums and social networking sites.

But clever as the spamming operation may be, I could not quite figure out what the objective was. They were not trying to sell me anything. So there may have been some kind of scam involved instead. So I thought at one point: I’m just going to respond to a few of them, and bait them a bit, see if it will lead to any answers.

I was quite surprised that there was a response at all. And the response was not just automated. The response was in English, and it was indeed stated that “she” had used an online translator and didn’t actually speak my language. She also responded in detail to some of the things I mentioned in my mail. She told me she lived in Kazan, and that she was an orphan with no family (could be true, but at the same time very conveniently avoids any talk about family). The time zone of the email message was also consistent with Kazan. Bizarre. There was also a new photo. She said that she had no computer, and answered her mail from an internet cafe (could be true, but it would also make you difficult to trace).

So I replied again, because it still wasn’t obvious what she wanted from me… but she started fishing for personal info a bit… Of course I’m not going to answer any of that. Anyway, we mailed back and forth a few times, there was always a new picture there, always the same girl:

OlgaI CIMG12 CIMG28

One thing I noticed about these pictures is that they don’t look ‘professional’. It seems that she took the first two pictures herself, with the camera in her stretched-out arm. Another thing is, they are ‘decent’ pictures. It’s not like they’re trying to lure you into something with a sort of ‘striptease’ in pictures (if you want to impair a man’s judgement and get money out of him, that’s the easiest way). I suppose the pictures are real. Question is, does the person in these pictures even know that they’re being used for this? For all I know, they could have been harvested from Facebook or similar social sites.

Then I sent an email where I explained that I had long realized that something was a bit fishy… and I wondered what it was exactly that she wanted. Did she want to come over, and if so, would she expect me to pay the trip? But unfortunately there was no answer. Because that was my theory so far. That the scam was to get you to send them money, but they never had any intention of really coming over.

Funny enough I got another one of these mails not much later, with EXACTLY the same story, but this time in English. She used the same name, same age, also claimed to be from Kazan, and like the first girl, she also claimed to be an orphan. BUT, this time there was a photograph of a completely different girl:

ImOlechka b_img11

So I responded to this girl as well… and the answer was almost identical to the first girl, almost down to the letter (right down to details such as her weight, height and birthday). So the plot thickens… I suppose it makes the theory more likely that they just grab a set of pictures from Facebook or such.

Anyway, I happened to follow the documentary series by Jelle Brandt Corstius: “From Moscow to Murmansk”. And one episode also covered Russian dating agencies. Apparently women are quite unhappy there. Women outnumber men about 3 to 1. So a woman is glad to find a husband at all. And Russian men are rather abusive as a result (that, and too much vodka)… So the women go to an agency looking for foreign men, in the hope of better opportunities.

So I’m wondering … what’s the story here? Could it just be a scam … they try to make you pay for everything, and then never actually show up? Or is there more to it than that? Would these Russian dating agencies be employing modern spam techniques to get in contact with foreign men? And were those women really looking for a foreign man? In that case, who would then be responding to emails? Would they do that themselves, or would an employee of the agency handle them? I would think that the average Russian woman might not own a computer, and as such wouldn’t be familiar with handling email. I also think that most would probably not speak English well enough. And what about the fact that I’ve had the same story twice with two different pictures? Is the story real, but do they just use fake pictures because the real women aren’t as attractive? Or is the story fake as well, and is it really just all about the money?

I’m fascinated by all this, oddly enough 🙂 Who has the answers?

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5 Responses to The Russians are coming!

  1. Jose says:

    Hello Scally, I really enjoy your blog and I actually came here just for the GPU and CPU programming stuff but I got really amused by this post in particular.
    Have you checked the Email’s headers?
    Did they all belong to the same IP-range and timezone?

    Considering that Russia has about 8 time zones, the scammers might be from Kazan in deed even though their IP address might be different (also, investigating russian ISPs seems to be a long and boring task)

    In my own experience, thanks to Google Image search, I was able to tell whether someone I met on websites like Meetme (former myYearbook) were real or not. I also rotated the pictures horizontally just in case the scammers were smart enough to flip them in order to avoid Google’s search image algorithm and -voilá- I caught them!

    Then I would message the real owners about it (sometimes I had to use Google Translate because victims were from Russia, Serbia, Croatia, etc)

    If you really want to catch them, you’d have to fall for their trick on purpose, then ‘agree’ to send an amount of money (which, of course, you will never do). With that info (bank account number, paypal, etc), you could even report them or threaten to do so. I considered doing that once but I never thought it’s actually worth the effort, though it’s fun to play inspector gadget after all.

    Let me tell you about my embarassing story (and you are allowed to laugh about it!)
    You see, I got fooled by a ‘girl’ who I added on MyYearBook and later on Facebook, she had tons of pictures and posts by friends on her profile, ‘she was from Finland and she studied Computer Engineering at MIT. She was beautiful, blond and smart enough to program a lot of stuff’ (A computer guy’s dream to say the least). I immediately fell under her spell!

    This ‘girl’ even sent me videos via MSN Messenger showing a nice blond girl with a lot of american friends at some college, I thought it must be real!!

    I believed it all until one of her friends sent me a message telling me he thinks she’s a fake because:

    Most of her friends are unrelated, no common friends at all.
    Most of her pictures were not tagged and there were no comments on it.
    She has pictures, videos and all but she never agreed to talk on Skype. (this was a red light warning!)

    After this, I did all the google stuff aforementioned and I couldn’t believe I had been so foolish!
    The funny thing is that this guy never ever asked me for money or anything alike. He was just doing it for fun… what a sick weirdo…! I just can’t imagine how many guys he fooled all the way long.

    Then, the guy who messaged me about her I sent messages to all of her friends about this fake, we found the real girl via Google and we also reported it all to Facebook, using the two profile links (original and fake) then, I never saw ‘her’ again. Facebook got rid of her, at least in that opportunity.

    I thought of it as a victory, but it was in fact a Pyrrhic victory… all the wast of time, effort, investigation and broken dreams, sight… Now that I think of it, it would have been cheaper to send some money than to waste all this time. Nine months! go figure!

    • Scali says:

      I actually managed to track down one of the girls on the Russian VK.com. Her real(?) name was different from the name I got in the email, and she was also not from Kazan, but from a different city, quite far from Kazan.
      It’s difficult to tell whether that profile on VK.com is real or not (all the pictures were added on the same day, and she does not have a lot of friends, the profile also appears to have been inactive for a long time), so I can’t say for 100% that this proves that they harvest the pictures from social media, or whether the VK.com profile is just another scam.

  2. francisco says:

    Hi
      I’m from Brazil , and found it very interesting your article .
       I just communicate with my ” friend ” Irina Kazan . Just as you , I was impressed with the way
    I was approached . So I decided to research on this particular person . Bingo , I found that it was a ” scammer ” . In short , are a mixture of , African Mafia and Russian women . Seek , in general , to extort money through a fake virtual romace .
     The victim sends the fare or some help and done, it’s over . The person stops sending messages and disappears .
      Women are really those who send the photos , and are easily found online .
     I find it a very serious matter . Many people were injured , both men and women , who suffer in silence and in shame .
      The only way to avoid this is by disseminating messages and following this advice : NEVER SEND MONEY TO A STRANGER You will lose your money for nothing , and will be feeding this scum ; NEVER PROVIDE DATA FROM CREDIT CARDS OR ANY PERSONAL INFORMATION , USE MECHANISMS SEARCH AS GOOGLE , to ascertain ORIGINS OF MESSAGES . SEARCH ON ” SCAMMERS ” , surely you will be amazed .

  3. MacOS9 says:

    Hi Scali,

    Most of those international dating sites are filled with fake/robot profiles (of nice-looking women) that seem enticing; popular places from which they originate are Russia, Ukraine, Moldavia, and other former-USSR republics in the near East. Also popular are places like Ghana in Africa. Most such profiles are placed there by men, or a variety of men, who try to lure/harvest money from sentimental strangers. I wouldn’t be surprised if various pimps generate such profiles too and use pictures of their “girls” to lure men. Especially fake are the Russian and/or Ukrainian find-a-bride agencies, emails telling sob stories of ladies who need money, love you deeply, or have a history that reads like a James Bond movie complete with orphanages, disasters, deep problems, and other nonsense.

    Tread carefully on online dating sites; the safest ones to check out are probably local sites, but again be aware of the profiles that look too good to be true. Emails that directly make it to your inbox without you having even registered on a dating site are the worst nonsense of them all – chances are it’s not even a woman at the other end of the line.

    Most of those ladies’ pictures (from fake profiles) are recycled/stolen from other dating sites, from porn sites, and other places – chances are the guys posting those profiles don’t even know where they got the pictures from.

    I once tested the theory by posting an ad on a site (will not disclose which one) – I was soon contacted by a profile posing as a French woman – the IP was from Ghana, however. We then exchanged Skype names and did a video call. At the other end was a video being looped for me on Skype – it was obvious that the video was running in loops, the lips not being synchronised to the broken English of the speaker. Needless to say I didn’t have my picture on Skype nor was I using the microphone at the time…but it was a stimulating test nonetheless – to see to what lengths creeps will go to steal your money.

    Take care.

  4. MacOS9 says:

    Two quick follow-up comments on my post above:

    a) yes lots of women there have computers (usually running XP) and know how to use chat programs like Skype; this is another warning sign – if they avoid IM programs and only stick to email, consider the profiles very fake, although you should tread carefully even if they do have IM programs (see my post on video looping above)

    b) most of them do not know decent English, only very basic words (unless you get lucky and meet one that’s an English teacher) – so again watch out for emails written in good English, or fake-sounding broken English, by women from such websites…usually following the format “would be very pleased to meet you with my beloved how goes your life” or some other nonsense like that

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