From Dream Man to Street Corner – the Loverboy Scam

Even if the name sounds harmless, so-called “Loverboys” can destroy the lives of young people. What this involves is men that contact school girls, and pretend that they are their big love. After some time the girls can become emotionally dependent and are then forced into prostitution. If pubescent girls suddenly change their clothing style, wear a lot of make-up and distance themselves from their social circles, parents should take a closer look. In Germany cases that not only involve migrants but also local girls are known. These girls also become victims of the Loverboy scam. 


Girls that are moving through puberty can often be filled with self doubt and uncertainty. It is often the beginning of a difficult time. They are inexperienced when it comes to love, relationships and sex. Loverboys are good looking men that use vulnerable women to extract profits. They write to girls on Facebook, Instagram or other social networks and try to gain their trust. Along with these platforms internet, school yards and fast food restaurants can be places where contact is made. To capture the girls’ hearts these men are understanding and empathetic. These prince charmings are always happy to listen – problems at home, grades or fights with parents. 


The platonic internet relationship usually does not last long. The men quickly push for in person meetings. They shower the girls with compliments and attention which they often are not receiving from their friends and families. Many of the girls quickly fall in love with these older and good looking men. Feelings of suspicion are suppressed and the skepticism of friends is ignored or put off as jealousy. The Loverboys first build up a relationship where the girls will blindly trust them and then move it to a dependency relationship. The isolation from friends and family is an important precondition for this emotional dependence and Loverboys are masters of brainwashing. 


The racket is always similar. The next step is the complaints of financial hardships. The Loverboy asks the girl for help. This is usually done by emotional extortion (If you really love me you will do this for me, think of everything I have already done for you) and the girls are then manipulated into having sex with strangers for money. Usually the Loverboys promise that it is just a one time thing, or will be over as soon as the financial drought is broken. The affected girls often don’t realise what is really happening and often don’t want to face the truth. The feeling of being loved is too intoxicating. For many victims this is the first time that they receive this level of attention from the opposite sex and fear that no one will be able to love them like this again. This makes them manipulatable. 


 Some parents think that it cannot happen to their daughter because she goes to a good school or lives in the countryside; however, more and more of those affected attend private schools or high level public schools, says Bärbel Kannemann. She is the founder of the group “NO Loverboys”and searches for missing girls that have fallen for Loverboys. In addition to this she is helping victims and providing educational seminars at schools. She warns that any girl can be caught up in this trap. Especially in rural areas youths are increasingly bored and spending more time online. Some of the victims can be as young as 11 or 12 years old.


The German prosecutor Stefan Willkomm explains that Loverboy crimes are treated as human trafficking. The issue of human trafficking is often a topic that affects migrants but can also affect German girls. Indictments and convictions up until now however, are rare. This can have a multitude of causes. Some of the victims have a long emotional connection to their Loverboy and protect them. Many are ashamed to have fallen for these tricks and therefore do not want to bring charges. One documentary from a german public broadcaster describes the case of a Loverboy from Düsseldorf. Four Girls from the region got together the courage to lay complaints. A further issue can be missing awareness in the community. Prosecutor Willkomm claims that in cities where his colleagues work there are complaints, prosecutions and convictions for these crimes but in places where no one is looking, it can be more difficult to ensure these criminals are stopped. Criminal investigative police branches in Austria are also frustrated with the difficulty of achieving convictions.  The girls are often not aware that they are victims and blame themselves. In addition, the strong emotional connections to the Loverboys makes it even more difficult for police.


The social worker Andrea Hitzke describes how hard it is for some to get out of these toxic relationships. If a Loverboy notices attempts to distance, he will start to make thereats. Often this involves threatening to do nasty things to parents, siblings or friends the victim tries to seek help. As the victims are also often subjected to domestic abuse, they take these threats seriously. Even if in some cases girls do escape, they often return to the abuser. They often voluntarily return as they somehow believe that he is in fact somehow their true love. Until the victims realise that their prince charming is in fact a brutal and violent pimp, they often struggle with this process and sometimes even require psychological help. 


In 2011 the Federal Interior Ministry responded to a question that the Loverboy method is mainly affecting women from Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary “most of the women come from socially disadvantaged families”. In fact, few to no cases of Austria girls becoming victims of Loverboys are known but as we know from earlier there are a multitude of reasons that these abusers often escape from justice. Emotional dependence, victim shame and lack of knowledge as well as lack of awareness all contribute. 


Bärbel Kannemann is calling for more awareness of the issue via schools. For parents and for children. Many parents are not even aware the Loverboy con exists and if they have heard of it, they often naively believe that it only affects large urban centres and people from difficult social backgrounds. If parents know what the warning signs are, that would be a great start, says Kannemann. Of course, in addition to this, girls should also be aware of the warning signs and know how to react. In addition to this it is wise to use caution for online friendships and to be aware of the dangers. Sadly, even if all of these preventative measures are taken, the chance remains that men will continue to exploit women in this way. Therefore the approach needs to be for still more prevention and awareness in Austria. 

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