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Virtual Love and e-Communication

By Dr. Claude Shema-Rutagengwa (MD)

Regional Coordinator

Great Lakes Peace Network (GLPN)




VIRTUAL LOVE & E-COMMUNICATION                                                        

Chances and challenges                                                 

-By Dr.Claude Shema-Rutagengwa    



With e-communication, many things become easier. But while it may be easier in terms of e-communication, it may be more dangerous is as well. We have so many cases to mention, such as the negative side effects of International Communication Technology (ICT) and e-communication in particularly, such as theft of personal information.  

Many people are afraid of using credit cards for purchasing items on Internet. This is because they risk losing all their money from their accounts in banks, all due to the high technology of thieves who access credit cards and information on individual bank accounts. All of this despite the fact that use of e-commerce and related systems seem to be the easiest way for modern society.  

This type of modern system of scammers has some steps, but mostly they have the same ways of scamming. It usually begins with a form-letter e-mail sent to many target recipients making an offer that will purportedly result in a large payoff for the intended victim. The stories behind the offers vary, but the standard plot is that a person or government entity is in possession of a large amount of money or gold. This person, for myriad reasons, either cannot access the wealth directly or is no longer in need of it. Such people, who are fictional or impersonated characters created by the scammer, could include the wife of a deposed African or Indonesian leader, a terminally ill wealthy person, a U.S. soldier who has stumbled upon a hidden cache of gold, a business being audited by the government, a disgruntled worker or corrupt government official who has embezzled funds, or similar characters.   

The money could be in the form of gold bullion, gold dust, money in a bank account, so-called "blood diamonds", a series of checks or bank drafts, and similar instruments. The sums involved are usually in the millions of dollars, and the investor is promised a large share, often forty percent or more, if they will simply assist the scam character in retrieving the money from holding and/or dispense of it according to the scam character's wishes. The proposed deal is often presented as a "harmless" white-collar crime, in order to dissuade participants from contacting the authorities.  

Many operations are professionally organized in Nigeria, with offices, working fax numbers, and often contacts at government offices. The victim who attempts to research the background of the offer will often find that all the pieces fit perfectly together. Such scammers can often lure wealthy investors, investment groups, or other business entities into scams resulting in multi-million dollar losses. However, many scammers are part of less organized gangs or are operating independently. Such scammers have reduced access to the above connections and thus have little success with wealthier investors or business entities, but are still convincing to middle-class individuals and small businesses, and can bilk hundreds of thousands of dollars from such victims. If the victim agrees to the deal, the other side will first send several documents bearing official government stamps, seals etc. (Some of these documents will be more convincing than others), and then introduce a delay or monetary hurdle that prevents the deal from occurring as planned, such as "in order to transmit the money, we need to bribe a bank official. Could you help us with a loan?" or "In order for you to be a party to the transaction, you need to have holdings at a Nigerian bank of $100,000 or more" or similar. More delays and more additional costs are added, always keeping the promise of an imminent large transfer alive, convincing the victim that the money they are currently paying will be covered several times over by the payoff. Sometimes psychological pressure is added by claiming that the Nigerian side, in order to pay certain fees, had to sell all belongings and borrow money on their house or by pointing out the different salary scale and living conditions in Africa compared to the West. Most of the time, however, the needed psychological pressure is self-applied. Once the victim has put money in toward the payoff, the victim feels they have a vested interest in seeing the "deal" through.  

In any case, the promised money transfer never comes. The money or gold does not exist, and by the time the victim realizes this (often only after being confronted by a third party who has noticed the transactions or conversation and recognized the scam), they may have sent thousands of dollars of their own money, and sometimes thousands or millions more that has been borrowed or stolen, to the scammer.  

The spam e-mails perpetrating these scams are often sent from Internet cafes equipped with satellite Internet. Recipient addresses and email content are copied and pasted into a webmail interface using a standalone storage medium, such as a memory card.  Many areas of Lagos, such as Festac, contain many shady cybercafés that serve scammers. Many cybercafés seal their doors during after hours, such as from 10:30 PM to 7:00 AM, so that scammers inside may work without fear of discovery. Nigeria also contains many businesses that provide false documents used in scams. After a scam involving a forged signature of Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in summer 2005, Nigerian authorities raided a market in the Oluwole section of Lagos. The police seized thousands of Nigerian and non-Nigerian passports, 10,000 blank British Airways boarding passes, 10,000 United States money orders, customs documents, false university certificates, 500 printing plates, and 500 computers.  

Some London-based gangs have been known to use spamware on laptops which they surreptitiously connect to the cafe's network, but even this software is notably out-of-date. While this method is significantly more labour-intensive per mail sent than others, it offers near-total anonymity and allows them to relocate very quickly and easily. Often the layout of web pages and so on used in the scams is very professional, suggesting that the spammers do not lack technical sophistication.  

Scammers often request that payments be made using a wire transfer service like Western Union. The reason given by the scammer will usually relate to the speed at which the payment can be received and processed, allowing quick release of the supposed payoff. The real reason is that wire transfers and similar methods of payment are irreversible, untraceable and, because identification beyond knowledge of the details of the transaction is often not required. It is completely anonymous.  


The same worries and challenges exist for virtual love.    


Love through the Internet  


Nowadays, we can do a lot via internet, like studies from secondary school up to Ph.D. degrees, sending money to friends/relatives, or booking a flight/hotel, praying for each other through chatting or other means of e-communication. E-communication also goes far into health care; now with Tele-medicine many patients are getting healed due to distance medical care. All these show how much easier, important and helpful the Internet can be.  

Unfortunately, this good experience and positive results can lead us to believe, with our entire mind, every thing about the Internet. ”If a medical doctor-surgeon-can operate a patient with a distance of thousands miles away, why not love”?  

The answer is “yes”, but carefully is better than orienting our mind on the positive side records of internet/e-communication.  

Therefore, there is a huge doubt by a number of people about the credibility of “online relationships”.  

My opinion on that is that online relationship really is possible and credible. But it depends on how you search and how careful you are in terms of progressing step-by-step in online love matters. For some people, it can be very intimidating to enter the world of online dating. We constantly hear stories of people who met some nerdy, geeky guy in a chat room or on an adult dating site, or even stories of people who crossed with some psycho, crazy girl. But what about the stories of online relationships which did work out?

Finding the perfect relationships is not something restricted only to celebrities for instance, and thanks to the technology of the Internet, today there are a lot of people making friends and establishing successful and loving relationships in the virtual world.

In fact, you may occasionally crash into some nerdy and ugly guy in one of your meetings, but you may also discover the love of your life, a very great partner to share some time with, or even people who will eventually become your friends. You'll see that, with a bit of practice, online dating is pretty much the same as real dating, not filled with celebrities or stalkers either, but with ordinary and interesting people as it comes. 

Unfortunately, some people are not able to transfer to the real world the exact same characteristics they present in an adult dating site or an instant messenger for that matter. It doesn't necessarily happen because they are lying, but sometimes people who are outgoing, self-confident and communicative online are not able to express such features in person.

It is difficult to suggest a solution for the negative aspects of this kind of new technology, but the best way cope with challenges of false personality is to follow some steps in order to know who your “virtual partner” is in real life before falling in love or having serious business with the phantom. Some ideal ways can be to ask the person the same questions in different ways and different times (names, address, age, gender, etc…) and avoiding any transaction or visits before you really know who your virtual partner is. Many other options also can be used like using a web camera to see if the person is real. But the simple remedy which has worked successfully to many cases is to delay the partner’s wishes like visiting, taking time before sending any thing to her/him like money, etc…,because actually that kind of people don’t have time to wait.    

On balance, I would guess that it’s better to lose that kind of friend than to regret knowing them for a lifetime.


References and useful links:                                                                                                 



Dr.Claude Shema-Rutagengwa (MD)