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Greenlit: 419: The Internet Romance Scam, Channel 4

419: The Internet Romance Scam (1 x 60′) –  Documentary that gives a gripping insight into the complex psychology of internet romance scams with unprecedented access to scammers in Nigeria. Internet dating is now more popular among the middle-aged than the young. More than a third of people between 40-69 who got together in the last 15 years met online. A whole new world of exciting opportunity has been opened up to mature British singles, and the majority find what they are looking for.

This film is about the few who bite the scammer’s bait, and are unwittingly enticed into a tangled web of lies, love and money. Known in Nigeria as simply ‘419’ – the number of fraud in the Nigerian Penal Code – this type of scam may have started with badly spelt letters promising eye-watering rewards for receiving deposed dictators’ fortunes into UK bank accounts, but has now evolved into a very modern form. The latest, and most successful type of 419 is ‘The Internet Romance Scam.’

419: The Internet Romance Scam follows the stories of two middle-aged British women – Brenda and Caroline – who were both scammed in late 2009 by men using fake identities. Despite similar beginnings – a work trip to West Africa, followed by a terrible car crash, and a plea for urgent hospital fees, the stories take staggeringly different twists.
First we hear the story of Brenda Parke, an ex-air stewardess from West Sussex. Like most people who give internet dating a try, Brenda went online in November 2009 thinking about nothing more than when the first response would come. Brenda didn’t have to wait long before a man calling himself Bradford Cole, who claimed to be a 46-year-old Dutch father who had lost his wife three years earlier and now lived in Birmingham looking after his 14-year-old daughter Mauoreen. Brenda warmed to ‘Bradford’ on the phone, ‘he sounded like a very loving, caring father, interested in the welfare of his daughter’. Over the next two months Brenda sent him nearly £60,000 in payments to help him through a series of terrible crises that happened after he and his daughter travelled to West Africa on a business trip. When he then didn’t turn up at the airport where he had agreed to meet and reimburse her, Brenda realised she had been scammed. Even today, Brenda still can’t quite believe what happened to her.

In the second half of the film we hear the extraordinary story of Caroline, a 55-year-old furniture painter from Tunbridge Wells. The beginning of Caroline’s story unfolds with uncanny similarity to Brenda’s. In August 2009, Caroline joined a dating website and met a Greek entrepreneur calling himself ‘Sabastine Roland’ who had also travelled to West Africa on business. A few weeks later, ‘Sabastine’ asked Caroline for help with hospital fees after saying he’d been in a terrible car crash. After a few months, ‘Sabastine’ then broke the scammer’s golden rule and revealed his true identity to Caroline, admitting that he had lied to her. By this time, Caroline was in love with him and had always had her suspicions that he was African by the way he spoke. Where most stories would have ended, Caroline decided to give him a chance. The couple then cemented their new relationship with a six-week trip to South Africa that developed into three months of living together. Caroline and ‘Sab’ remain in regular contact even though the money has stopped but the question remains: has ‘Sabastine’ really developed genuine feelings for Caroline or is he playing a much longer game?

Felix Ekpa is a 31 year old University graduate from Lagos, Nigeria. Felix spent four years scamming people over the internet using various techniques including the Internet Romance Scam. For two years, he deceived an American woman called Debra but as it went on his conscience grew too heavy and he decided to come clean. Debra eventually forgave Felix for lying to her and Felix managed to stop scamming for good. In this rare interview, which is weaved throughout the film, reformed scammer Felix explains how the dating scam works from the Nigerian perspective, ‘it’s like watching a reality TV show, you don’t know what’s going to happen next.’ The ending of Felix’s story reveals that the emotional turmoil of scamming somebody can be just as acute as being scammed.

Channel: Channel 4 (First Cut)

Producer: Keo Films / Flow Films

TX: 29th July, 2011

Source: Barney Lankester-Owen

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