Criminals around the world are using the Internet to steal money from people in developing countries who dream about migrating to the United States and other Western countries. Posing as penpals or love interests they persuade hopeful migrants to send them money to help process their paperwork. VOA's Margaret Besheer reports these scams often target people in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
Dennis Hernandez works in a warehouse in a town in Bulacan province, about 34 kilometers northeast of the Philippine capital, Manila.
Nearly two years ago, the 42-year old began corresponding with a lady he met on the Internet. They exchanged e-mails and photos and after a short time she urged him to join her in the United States, where she claimed to live.
"She e-mailed me and then she promised me work in the U.S., and she gave me a promise to marry and to live in America," Hernandez said.
But she told him it would cost two hundred dollars to process the paperwork that would bring him to America. A huge sum for a man who earns about one hundred-sixty dollars each month.
His new friend also told him he would need to find nine other people to go to the U.S. with him, because the migration organization would only process paperwork for a minimum of 10 people.
Hernandez sold his motorbike and borrowed money to get the funds. He also persuaded five other friends to put up two hundred dollars each for their own migration. But once he wired the money to his Internet girlfriend he never heard from her again.
These sorts of schemes are not new, but they continue to prey on the poor and vulnerable, exploiting their hope of a brighter future.
Sue McConnell is with the Better Business Bureau in the U.S. state of Ohio. Her office has received numerous complaints from people who have been tricked by these types of schemes. She urges people to be cautious.
"Be very skeptical, especially if you are communicating with someone on-line who is a stranger, who you have never met. Even if they send you pictures of themselves, the pictures are going to be phony [false]. If they want money from you up-front or if they are referring you to some agency, and they want you to wire money, that is a big red flag that it is not legitimate right away," McConnell said.
Internet thieves give their so-called organizations real-sounding names. Others falsely claim affiliation with real groups such as the U.N. Refugee Agency or the International Organization for Migration.
Michel Tonneau of the IOM urges people to check with those groups to find out if their involvement is legitimate. He also advises doing some research.
"Check first in the webpage of these countries' ministry of interior or ministry of foreign affairs on how to apply to migrate to that country, and see if she or he has the effective profile for migrating to those countries of interest," Tonneau said.
Many international organizations also have warnings on their websites about such schemes.
Dennis Hernandez wishes he had been more careful and warns others to be cautious.
"I tell them to be careful. I tell them to be sure [about] the promise, the sexy lady, the money, the houses," Hernandez said.
He learned the hard way that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.