Trafficked With Mariana van Zeller: this captivating Disney + series meets the conmen behind a £2 million romance scam

Trafficked With Mariana van Zeller: this captivating series meets the conmen behind a £2 million romance scam

Posted by for TV

This investigative series is lifting the curtain on the confidence men behind the biggest cases of romance fraud.

Netflix’s The Tinder Swindler – a dramatic tale of deception, betrayal and romance fraud – has taken the world by storm since its release.

But while the tale of Simon Leviev and the women he took millions of dollars from may have shocked viewers, honey trapping is an ever-increasing form of fraud. Cybersecurity company Surfshark claims that, in 2020 alone, over $600 million (£440 million) was lost globally by internet users in confidence and romantic scams.

Emmy-nominated investigative docuseries Trafficked With Mariana van Zeller sees award-winning journalist van Zeller gain access into the underworld’s most dangerous black markets, from black market plastic surgery networks to stolen cars, and romantic scams.

In the series’ second season, which premiered on National Geographic on 14 February, van Zeller travels to Ghana to meet the individuals embroiled in romantic fraud with unknowing Americans.

In one exchange, a scammer reveals how he is currently posing as a woman to extort money from Michael, a man from Virginia who he says has sent him over $10,000 (£7,300).

He explains that it’s easier to get money from men, and the potential pool of targets is bigger, as there are more males using online dating sites.

“I felt for him,” the scammer – who is masked to conceal his identity – tells van Zeller. “Michael is kind-hearted. I think Michael has been too good to me.”

Journalist Mariana van Zeller delves into the murky world of romance scams
Journalist Mariana van Zeller delves into the murky world of romance scams

In another episode, van Zeller meets a victim who was conned out of millions of dollars by an online scammer she considered herself in a romantic relationship with.

“He was my life outside of work,” she tells the camera. “Everything he said was just so sweet. I just wanted to hug him and have him hold me so bad.”

“I was like a fish,” she explains of the scam. “That hook was so far down in my belly. I sold jewellery, I sold investments.”

In total, she says, she handed over more than $2.8 million dollars (£2 million).

The scale of romance scams dramatically increased due to the pandemic, when communication was moved predominantly online, leading to a global crime wave that surged during our loneliest months.

However, as both Trafficked and The Tinder Swindler have made clear, these sophisticated and insidious cons are not to be taken lightly.

While they say that love sometimes hurts – and that may be true, it should never cost you your life’s savings.

Season two of Trafficked With Mariana van Zeller premiered on 14 February and airs Mondays at 9pm on National Geographic.

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Images: National Geographic

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