Love scams and ‘bezness’

Love scams and ‘bezness’

The English term ‘love scam’ denotes a form of online confidence trick by scammers creating fake identities on singles dating sites and feigning romantic intentions towards victims with a view to obtaining money from them. This modern form of marriage fraud is being conducted on a massive scale by organised gangs operating from Nigeria and Ghana, where they are generally safe from prosecution.

‘Bezness’, on the other hand, is a neologism coined from the German word ‘Beziehung’ (‘relationship’) and the English word ‘business’, which typically denotes the exploitation of a female tourist, who believes that she is entering into a western-style relationship, by a man who, simply regards the arrangement as a meal ticket and the means to a residence permit. Generally speaking, Europe does not have the necessary laws in place to prosecute such fraudulent acts.

On 07 October 2020, German Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Christine Anderson of the Identity and Democracy Political Group (ID) posed a written parliamentary question to the European Commission.

MEP Anderson requested to know if the Commission was “aware of this problem and can it quantify (in euros) the losses incurred by European citizens directly (in the form of payments to scammers) and indirectly (in the form of welfare benefits claimed by them after they have succeeded in obtaining a residence permit)?” and “what action does the Commission intend to take to curb such activities (possibly as part of its Action Plan against Disinformation) and to assist victims?”

Lastly, the German Representative asked, “what countermeasures can the Commission take with regard to bogus marriages concluded for the sole purpose of obtaining a residence permit in a Member State and hence freedom of movement in the EU?”

On 17 November 2020, these questions were responded to by Commissioner Didier Reynders, responsible for justice, on behalf of the European Commission. In his answer he stated that the Commission is already aware of “the phenomenon of marriages by deception” and “it cannot quantify the losses incurred by EU citizens and does not have precise statistics on sham marriages”.

He further reported that the Commission “adopted an Action Plan against Disinformation and a joint Communication on tackling COVID-19 disinformation, which include actions to raise citizens’ awareness, including of online scams” and that “the upcoming Digital Services Act to deepen the internal market and clarify responsibilities for digital services will consider the framework for addressing specific illegal or harmful activities conducted online”.

Commissioner Reynders also clarified that “as explained in its answer to Written Question E-007951/2017, the Commission has addressed the prevention of sham marriages in the two situations covered under EC law, family reunification of non-EU citizens legally residing in a Member State and of non-EU family members of a mobile EU citizen”.

In closing, Commissioner Reynders declared that “EU free movement rules contain robust safeguards against abuse or fraud, especially sham marriages” and that “beyond the two situations mentioned above, the issue of sham marriages falls within Member States’ competence and it is their responsibility to apply the rules”. He also added that “the Commission has provided the Member States with the required assistance through the issuance of guidance and meetings of the Free Movement Expert Group, whose agendas include discussions on the fight against abuse, exchange of best practice, statistics and intelligence on emerging patterns”.

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