If you’ve been following the past series of articles, you’ll know that in my early green and heady days, I got sucked in by a romance scammer. Read on to see how that went down, and how I sussed him out.
In a moment of weakness and boredom I accepted Richard’s friend request on an international dating app, though he lived outside of Australia and it therefore broke my fledgling rules.
I’ll just see who he is and hear his story, I thought. Was it weakness for another pretty face or my simple curiosity that often gets me into trouble? Maybe it was desire for a sense of authenticity and simplicity, and it wouldn’t be for the first time.
These were the qualities I sensed in Richard, entirely based on the six photos taken over the past few years.
His profile was lengthy. He was searching for a “genuine and honest lady” to spend his life with. He was a single father to a three-year-old boy, Vincent. He preferred “older, mature ladies full of love and experience”. He said he was thirty-two but he looked a lot younger.
Lying on my bed all snug and sleepy, I messaged back that’d I’d like to know more about his story.
As the youngest son of a British diplomat in Africa, I discovered that Richard had moved around a lot and spoke half a dozen African languages. His son’s mother had been “killed in a car accident” and left him grief-stricken for two years, but now he was ready to embrace life again.
He ran a successful printing business with multiple employees. His son was cared for by a nanny while he was at work. He was also part of a charity for African kids, Room to Read. He loathed Britain and only returned to see family once a year. His parents had both died but he’d stayed in Africa because he’d come to see it as home.
The next day we swapped mobile phone numbers and began chatting on Whats App. I was frank with my real name (a first). He told me that his full name was Richard David Keane and that he lived in Gaborone, Botswana, one of the “safest and best run countries in Africa”.
Our friendship escalated quickly, and I found myself wooed and pursued almost every moment of shared waking times between our two continents.
Despite my earlier experience with the likely catfisher, Johan, I continued to message with Richard because it was fun and seemed harmless. Although it was intense, it didn’t seem to trigger the same feelings in me. I thought I could handle it.
We discussed his country and past, as well as aspects of my life. We easily built familiarity and rapport, though I was occasionally chastised for asking too many questions. I found this odd, but no more than any other interaction with a man online. I forgave Richard for his poor written communication skills and made excuses for his education in a third-world country.
He sent me a few videos, which gave me a picture of his life although it didn’t show his business or home or his face. The second two videos were taken on a trip to nearby Zambia. There was a snippet taken of him speaking to the camera in a dusty four-wheel drive en route.
Another was of a wild elephant with his dialogue explaining how he’d come across it and decided to film it for me. It was breathtaking seeing the elephant so close, but his commentary surprised me. He sounded very African and, in my head, I ran through his background again: although Caucasian and British, he’d been raised with Africans since the age of seven. In boarding school during his teen years, he was the only white kid. His extended family back home in the UK teased him for his accent.
After about a week, we were firmly ensconced in each others’ daily routines. I’d seen countless photos and heard a lot about his young son. We were chatting constantly, and I was feeling stupidly cheerful for no reason.
Soon we decided we needed to talk on the phone.
“It feels like a first date,” he said excitedly.