MOSCOW - A Canadian man in love with an imaginary Russian woman has helped Yekaterinburg police arrest a couple behind an Internet scam that cheated love-struck foreigners out of thousands of dollars.
The Canadian citizen became worried about the bride-to-be he had met through the web site after she wrote to say that all the money he had sent her had been stolen by the Russian mafia, Yekaterinburg police said.
In fact, the bride was nothing but the criminal imagination of a local couple, police spokesman Valery Gorelikh said by telephone Thursday. The couple, which he refused to identify, ran a web site called Russian Girls that had consisted entirely of photos of nonexistent would-be brides.
The gullible would-be fiancees were scammed out of money through letters asking for money from the fake women, as well as by a section on the web site where the men could buy imaginary gifts for the imaginary women.
On hearing the news about the voracious mafia, the Canadian, whom Gorelikh also refused to identify, flew out to Russia to help his would-be bride. He contacted the British consulate in Yekaterinburg, who immediately sent him to the police. The police traced the couple when they continued to write letters to the Canadian.
Gorelikh said the couple would be charged with fraud under Article 159 of the Criminal Code, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail.
Complaints about fraudulent Russian bride web sites are common. The U.S. Embassy said last year that it was getting up to 10 calls per day from men who had been duped.
The embassy directs the men to www.womenrussia.com, a web site that explains the various scams.
Another web site, www.russianwomenblacklist.com, has a list 15 pages long of women suspected of having scammed foreign men, and offers a paid service for men to check out the person they think they are communicating with.
Despite the rise in cases, there have been very few convictions.
One woman, Yelena Berkova, whom the blacklist web site has accused of scamming foreigners, even went on to enjoy minor celebrity status after starring in the THT reality show "Dom 2."
But one con artist, who swindled thousands of foreign men, was last year convicted after an Australian man complained to President Vladimir Putin.
English translator Yury Lazerev, 34, was given a suspended one-year sentence in November in Chelyabinsk after being found guilty of conning nine foreigners by pretending to be a shy English teacher named Alfiya Matveyeva.
Lazarev is thought to have made $300,000 from the scam, and police discovered an Aladdin's cave of lovers' gifts - perfumes, jewelry, and various foreign monies - when they searched his apartment.
Australian Terry McCarthy wrote to Putin in 2001 to complain after he was conned out of $700 by Matveyeva. His letter was passed on to the Interior Ministry, a Kremlin spokeswoman said. Police traced the payments to accomplices of Lazarev in Chelyabinsk, and he was arrested.