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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nadezhda Seeking Love? No, It's a Con

As she sends e-mail with her photograph to men around the world, Nadezhda Medvedeva calls to the lonely in just the right voice.

If circumstances were different she might make a fine wife. She is young, brown-eyed and curvy, a pediatric dentist who quotes 19th-century poetry and cooks delicious meals. She lives near the Caspian Sea but is eager to travel. Her Russian is fluent; her English, not bad.

Medvedeva is also cautious, even demure. It is only after she grows comfortable with a suitor that she will reveal the depth of her longing. Then nothing can hold her back.

"Hi, my Lion!" she wrote to Steven Rammer of Denver, Pennsylvania, as they planned a passionate rendezvous at his home. "Hi, my soul!"

That rendezvous never happened. Nor did another she arranged for two days later with George Palin, who waited in vain in Montana.

No matter how long the trail of the jilted, Nadezhda ("call me Nadia") Medvedeva is neither a tease prone to second thoughts nor an overbooked on-line tramp. She is not even a person. She is bait.

Medvedeva is one of scores, perhaps hundreds, of fictional characters in a resurgent Internet hustle that has become a Russian boom industry this year. Using fake names, forged visas and snapshots of young Russian women, a new crop of online swindlers is luring Western victims into confidence games.

Each is an escalating flirtation between an unsuspecting man and a Russian grifter masquerading as a young woman. It typically ends when the victim wires money to Russia to pay for visas and airfare for a consummation of the affair. Then the beloved disappears.

The con first surfaced in 2001 but then subsided, Russian authorities say. It has recently returned with vigor and new sophistication. The targets are men in the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand who have posted personal advertisements on the Internet.

The U.S. Embassy is receiving five to 10 inquiries from U.S. citizens about it every day, a U.S. diplomat said.

"Some of these guys were literally left waiting at the airport with roses," she said.

Most victims lose from $300 to a few thousand dollars, although one man was defrauded of $11,000, the diplomat said. The number of men duped is at least in the hundreds, but it may be much larger. "We only know about the victims who are willing to talk about it," she said.

Modern Russia is in many ways an incubator for such crimes. It has a highly literate population that suffers from low wages and soaring unemployment, conditions that can breed hustlers. It offers them an environment in which they can work, including uneven law enforcement and barriers to outsiders -- a language many find impenetrable, strict visa rules and vast geographical spaces -- that all but ensure that few fooled Americans could ever find the people who tricked them.

Rammer and Palin both gave The New York Times the correspondence they had received from the person pretending to be Medvedeva. The string of e-mail messages shows how the game works.

In June the correspondent sent an e-mail message to Rammer, replying to a personal advertisement he had posted on, an online dating service.

It seemed a normal query, offering basic personal information -- I'm 29, 5 feet, 6 inches tall, a dentist -- and then following the rituals of new acquaintance. Do you like your job? What is your favorite film?

A long-distance conversation began. More e-mails followed, each message with an attached photograph.

The character of Medvedeva was slowly revealed. She is educated but of limited means. She knows popular Western films and classical Russian music. She provides dental care to orphans. She had a boyfriend, but he beat her. Now she is alone.

As the exchange intensified the grifter accepted pictures from Rammer, sent back compliments and answered questions he had posed. Two messages included pictures of Medvedeva in a bikini. On July 13, Medvedeva's character admitted it: She had fallen in love. "In my soul, I feel contentment and joy when I think of you," she wrote.

Two days later the plot took its essential twist: Her boss notified her that she had a vacation due. She wanted to visit her new man. The July 16 message began, in imperfect English, "I with trembling heart waited your letter."

Then came the rub. Can you help with travel costs?

Anatoly Platonov, the spokesman for the K Department of the Foreign Ministry, which investigates Internet crimes, said that the criminals who send these messages were almost always men and that they used the same scripts to correspond with hundreds, even thousands, of foreign men at once.

The person posing as Medvedeva was simultaneously flirting with Palin, having found his personal ad on He received virtually identical e-mail, the only changes being his name and short answers to questions he had posed in previous exchanges. ("I with trembling heart waited your letter" arrived on July 27.)

To lead the men into the trap, the poser sent them e-mail about a nervous wait for a U.S. visa, and then a copy of the visa after it was approved.

The visa was a forgery, made from a scan of an authentic visa, retouched by computer to include a new face and personal data. A trace of its number found that the original had been reported lost or stolen in August of last year, the U.S. diplomat said.

The ruse worked. Both Rammer and Palin wired Medvedeva money to help with costs. Rammer sent $300; Palin $720.

The identity of the person who duped them remains unknown, although whoever it was has been active: Medvedeva is listed as a phony bride-to-be on Internet blacklists, which are regularly updated by bilked men. Her picture has also been used under the name Tatyana Kuzminyh and Anna Kruglova.

Platonov said Medvedeva's ever-changing character fit a type. The fictional women are like Legos, assembled by joining random photographs, vignettes and seductive scripts. The men who create them often have female accomplices who provide their passports for scanning or pick up money at Western Union counters or banks.

The first ring the authorities broke up, in 2002, consisted of two young men and a woman who sent e-mail from the city of Yoshkar-Ola, in the Ural Mountains. "We arrested the fat girl and she gave evidence," Platonov said, referring to the woman in the group. "It turned out that all this effort was organized by a 21-year-old boy."

In the most recent case, prosecuted this year, a husband-and-wife team in Chelyabinsk bilked foreign men out of several hundred thousand dollars, Platonov said. The wife posed as the bait. The man was found guilty of fraud, but his case is on appeal, a local police spokesman said.

The U.S. diplomat says the scam appears to have been picked up by copycats who have grown more sophisticated of late.

The scripts have become more patient and include story lines that show a character's honesty or kindness. (Medvedeva described treating an orphan's toothache during a blackout -- by flashlight.) The visa forgeries have also become more convincing.

Moreover, some scammers have created web sites posing as travel agencies and backed them up with "employees" who take calls from foreign men asking about their date's airfare and reservations. Others have turned to new classes of victims.

Three weeks ago, the diplomat said, the first gay victims began to complain.