Woman forms unlikely friendship with Nigerian who scammed her

A woman cheated out of thousands of dollars by a Nigerian scam artist has described the friendship that blossomed after he admitted his guilt and asked for her forgiveness.

Arts teacher, therapist and painter Swede Maria Grette, 69, first encountered “Johnny”, a 24-year-old scammer, on an online dating website, where he presented himself as a 58-year-old Danish man, the BBC reports.

The man claimed to have been raised in South Carolina, US, and was now working as a civil engineer in the UK.

The pair eventually exchanged phone calls, and Ms Grette, while unable to place Johnny’s accent, nevertheless remained interested in meeting him.

“He had a way and a sweetness I had never known in a man before. And he was innocent in a way that puzzled me,” she said.

Johnny eventually announced that he was intending to retire in Sweden. While “en route” to meet her via Nigeria however, he wrote to tell her he had been mugged and son “Nick” shot in the head.

“Honey, I am in the hospital right now using the doctor’s laptop to send you this message so you can know my situation,” Johnny wrote at the time via email.

“The bank does not have a location in Africa, so it will take time to get money and the management are requesting €1000 to proceed with (Nick’s) treatment.”

After hearing about his desperate situation, Ms Grette agreed to wire €1000 (A$1432) to Johnny. But as the situation continued to develop and more money was requested, Ms Grette “came to her senses” and cut off communication completely.

Three weeks later, Johnny called to reveal his true identity as an unemployed Nigerian university graduate, describing himself as a “devil” who had done “a lovely woman” wrong.

His confession led to a blossoming friendship and an agreement by Ms Grette to visit Johnny in Nigeria. In October 2009 the two met in person in Abuja and spent the next two weeks getting to know one another.

The encounter led to a decision by Ms Grette to try and help Johnny. After he had agreed to stop scamming people, she provided financial assistance for him to complete a degree in America.

Eight years later, and he is now working in the US oil sector.

Ms Grette said Johnny has apologised on a number of occasions for his earlier actions and that he remains “very dear” to her in spite of it all.

Ms Grette’s surprising show of kindness did not end there however. After meeting Johnny, she decided to try to help others, and has spent the past six years facilitating visits by African artists to Europe for exhibitions, competitions, workshops and conferences.

She has also assisted these artists with accessing international grants and funding for their artwork, while herself returning to Africa to give talks on art.

Now living in Norway, Ms Grete said she is ultimately thankful for her encounter with Johnny.

“Johnny has given me more than he took,” she said.

“Without him, I would not have met Africa.”

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