Valentines Beware: Romance Scams Break Hearts and Empty Wallets

Counterfeit Romeos and Femmes Fictionale Appeal to Religion, Build Trust to Defraud Farmers, Divorcees and People with Disabilities, Agari Warns

FOSTER CITY, Calif.--()--Agari, the next-generation Secure Email Cloud that restores trust to the inbox, today published a report uncovering a Nigeria-based gang of scam artists, dubbed Scarlet Widow, who have left a trail of broken hearts and emptied bank accounts.

Scarlet Widow uses fake personas including “Laura Cahill,” a Texan model working in Paris; “Starling Micheal,” a handsome United States Army captain stationed in Afghanistan, whose perfect woman “has a trusting mind to fall in love;” and “Lisa Frankel,” a Norwegian saleswoman eager to visit the United States, looking for an “honest and caring man to date and have as my future husband.”

According to Agari, a Texas man was conned out of more than $50,000 by “Laura Cahill.” The romance lived only by email, as the two never met or spoke on the phone. But the man opened a joint bank account that let her bilk him out of tens of thousands of dollars, ignoring the warnings of friends and family that he was being conned.

“It is important to raise awareness about romance scams since its victims are often too embarrassed to report the crime,” said Crane Hassold, Sr. Director of Threat Intelligence, Agari. “Romance scams are devastating for its victims, who may suffer great financial hardship and psychological trauma as a result.”

Scammers like Scarlet Widow target thousands of people at a time, using volume to make up for a low probability that any single email succeeds. Previous Agari research found that initial romance scam emails succeed fewer than once per 750 emails, but successful scams can net hundreds of thousands of dollars, allowing some members of scam groups to fly first class and buy luxury cars.

Scarlet Widow posts fake personas on the largest dating websites like Match, eHarmony, and OKCupid, as well as targeting relationship seekers on more specialized sites, such as,, and It also uses sites for people seeking partners in the U.S. military, including

Once “Laura Cahill” or another fake persona receives an initial response, the scammer talks of her faith in God and the importance of trust, evidently leading some victims to suspend their natural skepticism. The enhanced trust of the victim may help them overlook obvious clues that Laura isn’t who she says she is, like her bizarre comments in one email: “I also have several pairs of shoes…I use facial cleansers at times, Lotions and eye creams. I generally don’t smell.”

The Agari Cyber Intelligence Division (ACID) is the only counterintelligence research team dedicated to worldwide Business Email Compromise (BEC) and spearphishing investigation. ACID uncovers identity deception tactics, criminal group dynamics, and trends in advanced email attacks, and helps mitigate cybercrime activity by working with law enforcement and other trusted partners.

Read the Agari blog

Download Scarlet Widow: Breaking Hearts for Profit

About Agari

Agari is transforming the legacy Secure Email Gateway with its next-generation Secure Email Cloud™ powered by predictive AI. Leveraging data science and real-time intelligence from trillions of emails, the Agari Identity Graph™ detects, defends, and deters costly advanced email attacks including business email compromise, spear phishing and account takeover. Winner of the 2018 Best Email Security Solution by SC Magazine, Agari restores trust to the inbox for government agencies, businesses, and consumers worldwide. Learn more at


Clinton Karr
(415) 993-1010

Release Summary

Valentines Beware: Nigerian Scammers Prey on Lonely Hearts, Leaving Trail of Broken Banks


Clinton Karr
(415) 993-1010