The pay per letter (PPL) online dating scam has been around for over a decade, but it is only during the last few years that it has become rampant in Ukraine; it is less spread in Russia. This model of operation for overseas dating sites offering so called “mail order brides” turned out to be so profitable that even legitimate services with 20-year-histories adopted it, along with hundreds of new sites developing virtually overnight and instantly presenting thousands of pretty faces and bodies.
The essence of the pay per letter dating scam
Women who are seeking a relationship with the goal of a prospective marriage through online dating sites, while at the same time living in another country, are often classified by the media as mail order brides.
Being foreigners, these ladies supposedly don’t speak English, thus agencies representing them request payment for each letter, explaining it by the need to make translations back and forth. Lovestruck suitors happily pay approximately $5 per letter – so called “credits” are purchased in advance for amounts of $40-$500. The sites also offer pay-per-message, pay-per-minute text and video chat. A video date with someone in Ukraine may cost around $50 for 10 minutes. PPL sites also provide gift deliveries to women, from flowers and candies to the latest mobile phones, computers and English lessons.
What excited admirers caught in a scam do not know is that they are corresponding with an agency employee who is pretending to be the girl in the photos, and is being paid about $0.50 for every $5 message. To seal the deal, sharing of email addresses or phone numbers is not allowed, the only method of communication permitted is through the site.
The PPL profit ladder
The PPL structure depends on the agents who recruit new women in their home countries. These local agents check women’s documents, hire a photographer to take photos of her, translate her questionnaire to English and upload it to the “mother” site. The local agent has access to the woman’s profile on the site, through an admin panel and has the ability to alter, delete, or operate it.
Profits from PPL (letters, chats, video chats, gifts) are shared:
- The mother site (the one you usually see in Google’s search results in a “sponsored” listing) gets about 50%.
- The local agent gets the remaining 50%.
Local agents quickly realised that the more women they have in a database, and the more letters and chats they send, the more money they can make. Women who seek a partner abroad have no desire to sit at the computer for eight hours a day typing letters to men, many of whom they don’t even like. So, local agents in Ukraine and former USSR started hiring translators who would communicate with the men, regardless of whether girls liked them or not.
With the political anarchy in Ukraine in recent years, there is almost no control over so called “marriage agencies”. Whether the girl in the photos had any desire to marry someone from overseas became superfluous. Local agents decided it was easier for them to get 20% from 100 people than to get 100% from 20 people. They started paying percentages from their profits to “models” (pretty girls who pose for photos) and “translators” (people who type letters).
Models are paid about 10% of what their profile earns, and are also allowed to keep gifts. Translators are assigned 1-2 girls’ profiles, and earn about 10-25% from what the profile earns (depending on the generosity of the agency owner), and also a small commission on gifts sent to “their girl”. Models are not required to ever meet suitors in person. Their job may be finished after the initial photo session, or they can, if they desire, attend meetings with their online suitors when they visit Ukraine and enjoy free meals and ask for more gifts, which they are allowed to keep.
In the beginning, the men who are receiving sweet love stories and confessions from girls 20-30 years younger than them don’t think that paying $5 per letter is a big deal. This is until their letter writing expenditure extends into thousands of dollars.
My personal experience with PPL
“We will find him someone else when he visits here”, that is what a local agent in my home town Ekaterinburg, Russia, told me, when he was trying to convince me to answer a man I didn’t like, but who liked my profile very much. I refused, but I am not sure the guy didn’t get an “answer” from me and wasn’t lured to visit. I met someone on my own, without an agency, and moved overseas, but my photos were still on some websites after that, and I had a hard time removing them.
PPL dating scam today
Today’s ads from local dating agencies participating in PPL schemes openly advertise for “models” and “translators”.
Here is a copy of a real ad from a Ukrainian online jobs site trud.com:
“Marriage agency requires models and translators
We are seeking attractive girls, preferably of model appearance, for cooperation with our agency and receiving stable income. The work is simple, nothing difficult. The essence of the work is to correspond with foreign men on a dating site (no intimacy!). The foreigner pays to the site-company to use the services of the marriage agency, i.e. has the ability to communicate with the most beautiful girls in the world! 1. If you know English or can use Google-translator, and ready to work – we register you on the site and fast forward;)). Further everything is as usual – simple correspondence, chat. Payment once a month. 2. If you are not ready to work – a translator will be working instead of you. With that you will be getting 10% + gifts made by the foreigner. And it’s a frequent practice! I.e. you are not working but still receiving money! Men like to send gifts, starting from flowers, Iphones, tablets, photo cameras, and ending with precious stone jewellery. Girls who work earn from 300 to 3000 dollars a month! You can work anywhere in the world! Trust us, the work is interesting and profitable. You can simply give it a try, it doesn’t oblige you to anything. Confidentiality is guaranteed! If you don’t like it, you can leave, which I doubt;) With all questions, call or write to the email address here!!!”
Do a search in Russian for the words “Ñ€Ð°Ð±Ð¾Ñ‚Ð° Ð±Ñ€Ð°Ñ‡Ð½Ð¾Ðµ Ð°Ð³ÐµÐ½Ñ‚ÑÑ‚Ð²Ð¾” (marriage agency work) and you will see hundreds of current listings on legitimate jobs websites, as well as dozens of forums and groups discussing how much it is possible to earn as a “translator” or “model”, from ads of local agents trying to recruit new employees, to posts of former and current employees explaining what really happens at the keyboard.
How widespread is the PPL scam in Russia and Ukraine?
In the early 2000s, most online dating sites offering introductions to Russian and Ukrainian women were selling addresses. Men were writing to women directly via email and air mail. Later, some of them switched to a membership model, and others to pay per letter.
Today, most agencies listing women from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and other former USSR countries are using pay per letter structure. Only a few allow direct communication and sharing of contact information, and don’t request payment for letters.
If you search for Russian women or Ukrainian ladies, you will see tons of listings of websites, most of which will be using the PPL scheme. If you simply visit them, most will have instant pop ups offering to chat to girls who are online and, apparently, already wishing to converse with you, without even knowing who you are and how you look. If this happens, you can be sure you are on a PPL website.
A recent Dr. Phil show featured Carl from the USA who had spent over $7,000 on an online romance with Natalie from Odessa, who when he visited for two weeks said she “suddenly had to go away on a business trip overseas” . Irrespective of that hiccup, he continues to send letters at $5 a pop. The romance has been ongoing for two years.
How to avoid PPL dating scam
It’s nearly impossible to avoid PPL dating scam when you are paying per letter. Even if the “mother” agency swears women are interested in every man they are talking to, there is no way for the facade website to know that. Agents require translators to work 4-8 hours a day, and with this they earn $300-500 a month.
As one male translator from Odessa who writes letters on behalf of pretty girls noticed, if a male suitor wants to do video chat, he quickly phones the girl-model and informs her to login and do a little chat, to create the impression it was her who talked to him online earlier. Because video dates are expensive, men seldom request them, spending the rest of the time chatting on text or sending letters.
In online forums, women who came to agencies trying to find a partner report that removing their profiles from PPL sites was all but impossible. Once in the database, letters will be sent and communications entered, even if a lady is no longer willing to be a part of it.
Here is a comment of one Ukrainian girl:
“I found out about this type of work just last month when I had applied to a couple of such agencies. After they explained me the essence of the work I felt disgusted and, of course, refused. But there are some girls who do such job with pleasure because they receive money, even not much, and some gifts.”
Another lady wrote a longer account of her encounter with the PPL scheme:
“And the situation is even more disgusting. I can tell about my own experience of being cheated as a woman. Some two years ago or so when it just came to my mind to try internet dating, and I knew nothing about the business, I addressed one Ukrainian dating agency which promised to place and verify my data on the two well-known international dating sites. I agreed, and I gave them my photos and information about myself including even passport data (so serious they pretended to be in their attempts “to save foreign men from indecent women”). And they placed my profiles on those sites indeed. But then strange things started. As for one site, I could not even write letters by myself from the very beginning (“What’s the problem? Tell us who you want to write and what about, and we shall send him a letter”). On the other site, it was possible to read and write letters freely, but the very first days I was greatly surprised when one day having opened my page I discovered that I somehow “managed” to “write” one hundred men just in one night! The letter “I” sent them started with “My dear sweetheart…” or something like this, and I was so shocked! Since that time, I tried to change my password several times, I contacted my “agent” and urged her not to send any correspondence on my behalf, I replaced all the information from my profile several times… Nothing helps, they still continue to use these two-year-old photos and my data to cheat men. From the internet forums, I have learned that even if you close your profile on those sites, it’s no help because they still continue to use your information and photos, but then without even your knowing it. And I don’t know what can be done in this situation. But there is another thing I want to mention. No matter how stupid those letters they send are, there are always at least several men who react on them. I have never been so popular by myself, with my real letters than with those fake ones written on my behalf. Dear men! Do you really believe that a normal woman will call you her sweetheart and will tell you she loves you in the very first letter???”
To be confident that you are communicating with a genuine person in Russia or Ukraine who is really interested in you, share emails and Skype names and talk directly. If a woman is interested in you, she will be happy to do that.
Every woman in Ukraine and Russia learns English at school for five years and has to pass exams at the end. She is able to read and translate your letters herself, even if with the help of an online software translator. Her spoken English may not be perfect but she can read English.
Every young woman in Russia and Ukraine has a mobile phone and knows how to use free Wi-Fi in cafes, and has a daily access to Internet at home and work. It’s not the 1990 anymore. Good luck.
By Elena Petrova,
About the author:
Elena Petrova is a dating coach and author of “How To Find A Woman Who Will Stick With You Through Thick And Thin“, explaining the intricacies of dating Russian and Ukrainian women in today’s world. She lives on the Gold Coast in Australia.