BBC REPORTER AND PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR UNMASKED ONLINE IMPOSTOR!
BBC reporter, Athar Ahmad alongside a private investigator, Laura Lyons, unmasked a Nigerian online dating scammer who claimed to be Paul Richard, a US soldier based in Dubai but was later discovered to be a Nigerian named Okechukwu who owned a barbing salon in Ibadan, Oyo state, Nigeria.
The reporter, Athar whose mission is to unmask online dating scammers had set up an account on a dating site as Kathryn Hunter – a wealthy divorcee looking for love. Not long after he registered, four men, all claiming to be soldiers, hit her up. The most consistent was Paul Richard who claimed he was a US soldier in Dubai.
“It’s not long before the catfish begin to bite. Four men approach me online and they all claim to be US soldiers.” Athar said
One of the soldiers, who calls himself Paul Richard, comes on strong. On day two, he tells Kathryn he’s in love. On day three, he wants to marry her.
He takes the conversation away from the dating site and bombards me with texts. There are messages late into the night and more waiting for me in the morning.
After a week, Paul Richard says he wants to speak on the phone. My producer takes on the role of Kathryn for the call. The number he rings from has a Nigerian dialing code.
After a brief silence, a man with a thick African accent comes on the line. He doesn’t sound like the American soldier whose picture he is using. But Paul explains away his accent by saying he has a cold.
The easiest way to prove someone is a catfish is to find the real person whose pictures they are using. An online reverse image search can show where the pictures came from on the internet.
The first three photos Paul sends us don’t work, because the metadata has been stripped from the picture. But we get a result on the fourth, a selfie Paul claims is him in his army uniform.
It leads us to the Instagram page of Juan Avalos, a real-life marine whose page features the same pictures sent to us by Paul. He has uploaded a warning about catfish because so many fraudsters have been using his photos to scam people.
Paul asked for her number and when he called her, his dialing code showed he was calling from Nigeria and what was most astonishing was his thick African accent despite his claim of being a US soldier. He later sent her his picture which was that of a white soldier.
When asked why he had such an accent despite being American, Paul said he had a cold, hence his distinct accent.
As the conversation between them continues, Paul professed his undying love for Kathryn and wished he could marry her immediately. He also started asking her to send him money.
Paul talks gushingly about their future life together and his plans to move to the UK to be with Kathryn once his army service finishes.
The conversations grow longer and more frequent, punctuated with kisses, flirtatious comments and a regular request for pictures.
There’s just one thing standing in the way of our future happiness – Paul’s son is sick and desperately needs medical attention. He asks for $800 (£620) to pay for young Rick’s treatment.
Paul says we should pay the cash to his nanny in the US, a woman called Marcy Krovak.
A breakthrough in unmasking his identity came when he accidentally leaves a name tag – Dan Coolman – on one of his WhatsApp pictures.
It seems like we have hit another dead end, but then our catfish makes a mistake.
Paul Richard accidentally leaves a name tag – Dan Coolman – on one of his WhatsApp pictures.
We search through all the Dan Coolmans in Nigeria and we find one who runs a barbershop in Ibadan. He’s using the same number that our catfish has been calling us from.
Dan Coolman is another false name, but we discover the phone is registered to Daniel Joseph Okechkwu.
We then find a Twitter account with that name and the same profile picture as the one used by Dan Coolman.
We have finally uncovered the real identity of our catfish.
Laura carried out a search on all the Dan Coolmans in Nigeria and was able to narrow her search down to one who runs a barbershop in Ibadan, Oyo state. A more detailed search on the number showed it was registered to one Daniel Joseph Okechkwu.
With this information, Athar and his team visited Ibadan to confront Okechukwu. However, before they got to his barbing shop, he had fled.
‘We head for Ibadan, but by the time we get there he’s gone. The doors to the barber shop are locked and locals say it’s been closed for weeks.
There is a photo of our catfish posing with a customer on the side of the building, but no-one seems to know where Daniel Joseph Okechkwu has gone.
After three months of talking to our catfish, we decide to call him and tell him who we really are’.
When contacted, Okechukwu confessed to the crime, saying it was his first time of venturing into online dating scam.
According to him, he was forced to close down his barbing shop because it wasn’t making money as it used to. He asked for forgiveness and also pleaded with Athar and his team to give him money so he would stop scamming people online.
‘Surprisingly, he doesn’t hang up straight away. He sticks to his story about being a US soldier and insists his name is Paul Richard. He denies scamming anybody and then ends the call.
It feels like a disappointing end to our search, but later that night he calls back.
This time, Daniel Joseph Okechkwu confesses. He claims it’s the first romance scam he’s ever pulled and that he has been forced to do it because of the closure of his barbershop.
He sounds sincere and he apologises for the way he has treated us.
Our catfish says he wants to stop being a romance fraudster. But he needs us to give him money so that he can afford to stop tricking other people out of their cash.
It’s a classic catfish twist. They never give up on the scam even when they have been rumbled’
June 26, 2020