Reformed Internet scammer shares why he stopped being a fraudster

March 26, 2024
5 min read

The topic of Internet scams is a controversial one, especially in discussions about which countries are most responsible for these scams.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Internet Crime Report mostly provides information on victims and none on perpetrators. The report, however, tells us that Internet scams have increased consistently for the past five years. From 2018 to 2022, Internet scam complaints went from 351,937 to 800,944, representing a 127% increase in complaints.

And as the complaints increase, so do the losses.

In 2018, a total of $2.7 billion was lost to Internet scams. By 2020 this figure more than doubled to $4.2 billion. By 2022, it had risen by 142% to $10.3 billion. A significant portion of these online scams were phishing scams.

The US Federal Trade Commission defines this type of scam as "a type of online scam that targets consumers by sending them an e-mail that appears to be from a well-known source – an internet service provider, a bank, or a mortgage company, for example.

"It asks the consumer to provide personal identifying information. Then a scammer uses the information to open new accounts, or invade the consumer’s existing accounts."

The US and the UK ranked highest for victims of online scams in 2022, with no other country coming close. For context, the US had 479,181 thousand victims in 2022 while the UK had 284,291. Canada followed with just over 5,000 victims.

The report does not provide information on where most of these scams originate, but the perception remains that most Internet crimes originate from West African countries like Nigeria and Ghana.

These perceptions are, however, not substantiated by relevant data. Most platforms that list Nigeria as one of the top countries where online scams originate do not have data to back it up. Gitnux Market Data Report, which has some data on where online scams originate revealed that over 60% of online scams in 2020 originated from Asia.

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However, cases of fraud committed by Nigerians almost make these perceptions true.

For example, in 2019, the US named 66 Nigerians in connection to what was described as a massive fraud. The viral story of Ramon Abass known popularly as Hushpuppi also fuelled the stereotype that Nigerians are known for scams.

But these high-profile cases could create a skewed image, making it look like these scams are more prevalent in Nigeria than they are.

However, reformed Nigerian scammer, *Patrick Johnson has decided to do his part in changing the narrative by putting his scamming days behind him.

Johnson granted us an interview where he discussed the reasons some Nigerians decide to become scammers, the process, and his journey to reformation.

Patrick Johnson: Becoming a scammer

Johnson became a scammer in 2016, his second year in university.

"Nigeria was very hard, I needed to find a way to make money," he recalls, "My mum is a primary school teacher and my dad is a retired civil servant."

He was a self-taught scammer and had no mentors.  

While his parents weren't well-to-do, Johnson said they would never have approved of him becoming a scammer. This is why he remains anonymous during his interviews.

These interviews are how Johnson makes his money. His last victim, 61-year-old *Debbie Garcia from the US introduced him to Social Catfish, and he was paid for sharing his story as a reformed scammer to encourage other scammers to turn over a new leaf.

Before Garcia, Johnson had scammed many people, mostly from the US.

"I've scammed a lot, I scammed for five years and I was like a professional."

Johnson admitted he felt some guilt, which faded as quickly as he made money.

In a successful year, he made about $50,000. In not-so-successful years, he made a lot less or even nothing. He spent most of the money clubbing, vacationing, and buying clothes.

A routine he described as a "big boy trend," one that made him waste a lot of money trying to outdo other fraudsters to prove "who could spend the most."

Spending money is one thing synonymous with scammers or "Yahoo boys" as Johnson calls them. In fact, one needs to spend to start a career in scamming. The most important tool to spend money on is an iPhone.

According to Johnson, an iPhone is good for chatting, has exceptional VPN services, and is great for hiding a device's location when chatting with a potential victim.

Johnson specialised in romance scams.

"I'd go to Instagram, get a particular guy's pictures, and save them on my phone."

A fake profile is created with pictures gathered from different social media websites. He said he'd target women in their 60s and "the rest is simple."

Targeting older women was a strategic move for Johnson.

"Once they love you, they love you. Men, on the other hand, don't fall in love easily and tend to lie a lot. They'll say they will send you money but they won't."

He also targeted these women because they were typically lonely and needed people to talk to.

"I'd make them blush and laugh. Most times they just needed someone to make them happy."

Making them laugh is perhaps the most important part of scamming. Johnson said it makes them open up to you.

Garcia, Johnson's final victim, also opened up to him, so much so that he was able to get $30,000 from her. However, Garcia would turn out to be the reason Johnson decided to stop scamming.

The reform

"She gave me the most money I’d ever collected from one person."

But Garcia got very sick and this made Johnson feel guilty.

"She was suffering and she was in debt. I made her buy a house worth $180,000 when I lied to her that I was coming over."

Garcia's children stopped talking to her because she didn't believe them when they told her that the person she was in love with was a scammer.  But after she spent $180,000 on a house for her and Johnson to live with and he didn't show up, she knew she'd been a scam victim.

"I didn't think she was going to go through with it." Johnson underestimated what Garcia would do for him and it confirmed what Garcia's children always told her.

She demanded that Johnson reveal himself to her. He was scared at first but she promised she won't turn him in or block him.

"She cried so much," Johnson said. He couldn't bear what Garcia went through and he imagined someone doing the same to his mother.

Garcia didn't turn him in but she introduced him to Social Catfish, a company dedicated to preventing online scams through reverse search technology. Social Catfish offered Johnson a chance to use his story to reform other scammers

While Johnson hopes that sharing his story will discourage other scammers, it has only managed to get him death threats from other scammers.

"Their hearts are hardened, they don't have any intention to change."

However, he is turning to a different audience — the victims — and helping them learn how it is done and how not to get scammed.

(*) Not real names

He's a geek, a sucker for Blockchain and an all-round tech lover. Find me on Twitter @BoluAbiodun1.
He's a geek, a sucker for Blockchain and an all-round tech lover. Find me on Twitter @BoluAbiodun1.
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He's a geek, a sucker for Blockchain and an all-round tech lover. Find me on Twitter @BoluAbiodun1.

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