In recent years, online dating has become extremely popular. However, there are still some people who are wary about connecting with others online, in fear that the person on the other end may not be who they say they are.
Maria Grette was not one of those people—at first.
One night, her friends somewhat jokingly created a dating profile for her, and she went along with it. She ignored most of her messages, but eventually the 62-year-old Grette began talking to someone who she thought was a 58-year-old Danish man named “Johnny.”
“I was caught up by the atmosphere and by something in his words,” Grette told the BBC.
Grette and Johnny started talking and became friendly with each other.
The two messaged back and forth, telling each other about themselves. Johnny said he was Danish but was raised in South Carolina. He was a civil engineer who was currently working in England. He also had a son who attended a university in Manchester.
Grette herself lived in Sweden, she had gone through a difficult divorce a few years earlier, and she was currently working as an art teacher and art therapist. Although the two had different backgrounds, they clicked.
Eventually Johnny called Grette from a number in the UK. His accent was puzzling, but the way he spoke to her about his wishes to retire and move to Sweden made her want to meet him in person.
“He had a way and a sweetness I had never known in a man before,” she said. “And he was innocent in a way that puzzled me.”
After three months of speaking with each other, the two agreed to meet.
The two arranged that Johnny would fly to Sweden to meet Grette, but first he had to fly to Nigeria with his son Nick for a job interview.
Everything appeared to be going smoothly, until Johnny called Grette to tell her that he and his son had been involved in a robbery in Nigeria. Johnny sent a message to Grette explaining the situation—they had reportedly been robbed and Nick had been shot in the head—and requested Grette send money to help pay for Nick’s emergency surgery.
“I will never forget how I rushed to the Western Union office, trembling while I did the transfer,” she recalled.
At first Grette didn’t think much of Johnny’s request for money, but then the requests continued.
After Johnny continued to request more money, Grette knew something was wrong and stopped all communication with him.
Three weeks later, Johnny called Grette, and she answered. He had called to apologize and confess. It turned out Johnny was not a 58-year-old Danish man living in England, but a 24-year-old man who lived in Nigeria and was a notorious 419 scammer.
He said he had never met anyone like me before, that he had been fighting his feelings for me for a long time. He said his scamming mates had warned him about falling in love with a ‘client’, that he had ignored them because he trusted me and did not want to lose contact with me.
Despite the fact that Johnny scammed Grette, she still wanted to meet him in person.
The two continued to talk, and Grette got to know the real Johnny. She still wanted to meet him so they began to make travel arrangements. Since he was unable to get a visa to travel to Sweden, she visited Nigeria for two weeks.
“When I saw him at the airport in Abuja, tears fell over his face, and I knew I had known him all my life,” she told the BBC.
While in Nigeria, Johnny introduced her to his friends, who were also scammers, and it got her thinking. She wanted to help these otherwise “healthy, good men” before they committed themselves to a life of cheating people out of their money. She decided to help in the only way she knew how.
For over six years now, the art teacher has arranged for African artists to visit Europe and attend various workshops, conferences, and exhibitions.
Johnny may have taken thousands from her, but he also helped her find a purpose.
In addition to helping artists in Africa, Grette assisted Johnny in leaving Nigeria and pursuing an education in the United States—he had recently graduated from college in Nigeria, but was unable to find a job. Once Johnny left for the United States, he and Grette kept in contact occasionally.
Johnny always felt sorry for scamming Grette and asked for her forgiveness, but she always insisted it wasn’t her forgiveness that he needed.
“He has asked me so many times to forgive him and I told him that the most important thing is to forgive himself,” she said.