BBC has just published the story of a Swedish divorcee, Maria Grette, who fell prey to a 24-year old swindler and unemployed Nigerian graduate.
On discovering that she had just been duped, the 58-year old woman decided it was time to “make a difference to the people of Nigeria”.
The story began when Maria Grette, a Swedish woman who had just come out of a traumatic divorce was cajoled into “finding love” again from an online dating website.
Reluctantly she accepted the offer to go love-hunting using a profile her friends had set up for her.
Maria Grette was as an arts teacher, painter and arts therapist. She had absolutely forgotten about the dating website but on one occasion however, she decided to take a look at her messages.
“I received messages telling me that people had contacted me, but I never looked at them,”
“I still don’t know why. It was like a sudden impulse happening before I could stop it.”
She found particularly interesting a message from a man who described himself as Johnny, a Danish widower and a civil engineer; born and raised in South Carolina, USA, but currently working on a contract in England.
Johnny claimed he had a son who was studying in a Manchester university.
Maria got interested in the mystery man and somehow they started communicating.
“We spent some time writing, then he called from a UK number.”
“I wanted to meet him because I liked him. He had a way and a sweetness I had never known in a man before. And he was innocent in a way that puzzled me.”
After 3 months, Johnny claimed he wanted to come over to Sweden to meet with her but first he had to travel with his son to Nigeria for a job interview.
Maria fell for it and believed the story. Later on “Johnny” calls again claiming to have been involved in a robbery attack in Lagos. He sends a message to her requesting the sum of €1000 for his treatment and that of his son who was shot in the head.
He claimed there was no other means of getting a quicker access to money in that critical life or death moment for his son.
Maria fell again for the story and rushed to Western Union to send the money, hoping she was being humanitarian.
“I will never forget how I rushed to the Western Union office, trembling while I did the transfer,”
“All I could think of was to get the two persons in Nigeria out of danger.”
The scam did not end there. Under the guise of medical complications, “Johnny” kept extorting money from Maria, who after several thousands of euros considered she might have been played.
Maria was sure this was a fraudster and stopped all forms of communication. Yet the story did not end there.
All of a sudden “Johnny” calls and confesses to what Maria had already figured out. As it seemed, they both wanted to re-define their romantic ties. Maria decided to come over to Nigeria to meet with him.
“When I saw him at the airport in Abuja, tears fell over his face, and I knew I had known him all my life.”
Now good friends, Maria gave a deeper thought to his condition and all others who have been tempted to become internet scammers.
“I asked myself what I could do to prevent a situation where healthy, good young men fall into this trap.”
Maria was out to make the best out of her experience. From then on, she has helped African artists to visit Europe for arts exhibitions, workshops, conferences and competitions. She also helps them source for grants.
Thanks to her, “Johnny” has quit scamming and furthered his education in America. She says they have not meant ever since. Still she is grateful that her experience has opened up a door of purpose in Africa.
“He has asked me so many times to forgive him and I told him that the most important thing is to forgive himself.”
6 years on and Maria Grette is passionately touring Africa, speaking and encouraging young artists.