Social media is abuzz with the latest Netflix documentary’The Tinder scammer. This documentary follows the lives of three women who have been defrauded by a con artist, who lured them into a romantic relationship on Tinder.
He then extorted large sums of money from them through emotional blackmail and his famous phrase “my enemies are after me”, urging women to send him money quickly in hopes of alleviating his burden, and on the basis that he would return the money to them.
Romance cybercrimes are becoming common in South Africa. According to Business InsiderR134 million was lost to love scammers in South Africa in 2020.
This type of crime is what is traditionally called fraud and extortion. the common law fraud offense means “the unlawful and intentional making of a false statement which causes actual or potential harm to another”. On the other hand, extortion consists in “withdrawing from another a patrimonial or non-patrimonial advantage by intentionally and illegally subjecting this person to pressures which incite him to submit to expropriation”.
When these crimes move from the physical world to the online world, they become what are known as cybercrimes. In South Africa, these are defined as cyber fraud as well as cyber extortion. Cyber fraud occurs when a person “unlawfully and with intent to defraud make a false statement by means of data…”. This can be done through data posts on social media platforms, including dating apps and other communication platforms. Similarly, extortion occurs when a person unlawfully and intentionally threatens to commit a cybercrime against another in an attempt to gain an advantage over that person or coerce them into acting in a certain way.
Misrepresentation in online romance scams includes the fraudster lying about their identity, location, and circumstances, especially their financial situation. Extortion is manifested by lies and manipulations about an urgent and dangerous event that could occur or happen to the fraudster and pushes the victim to transfer a sum of money to the fraudster. This scheme often results in innocent people losing thousands of rands.
An example is the Gang “Black Axe” which consisted of a group of people who conspired to commit internet fraud by tricking people into thinking they had a romantic relationship with them. They would then come up with urges that would compel the victim to send them money, and when the victim protests, the offender would manipulate the victim using threats such as threatening to distribute sensitive photos of the victim. This is similar to ‘The Tinder Swindler’ star who not only claimed her life was under attack, but instilled fear in her victims by warning them to be careful as their enemies might be after them as well.
Under the Cybercrime Law 19 of 2020, this type of behavior can be punished under Article 276 of the Criminal Procedure Law 19 of 2020, which includes imprisonment and a fine.
In conclusion, romance scammers use deceptive methods to gain the trust of their victims and then coerce them into sending money. Online romance scams are cyber crimes and should be reported and offenders should be punished according to law.
1.Section 8 of the Cybercrime Act 19 of 2020.
2.Section 10 of the Cybercrime Act 19 of 2020.
Kelly Lekaise is a second-year lawyer candidate at PPM Attorneys
This article first appeared on the website of the commercial law firm PPM, hereand republished with permission.