They never saw the money or heard from the women again. In a final humiliating twist, they found out, usually far too late, that many of the sensuous "women" with whom they had been corresponding were actually men - part of one of the many sinister Russian mafia rings making a fortune out of such scams.In one case, a member of a gang posed as a nurse using a photograph of the world-famous Bolshoi Ballet dancer Anastasia Volochkova.No other business pays as well in this grim backwater.Volochkova herself, who left the Bolshoi Ballet in 2003, is now happily married in Moscow and horrified at her pictures being used by the scammers. Fantasy: Glamorous 23-year-old 'Anna Safina' promises 'to do everything to make you feel good'.No wonder this new industry is said to be worth an incredible £40-£ 50 million a year to the city.One fraudster, who poses as an attractive blonde called Anna Ivanova, said: "The average salary in my city is £75 a month."The choice here is simple - either poverty or larceny. "People are fools if they want to find a wife on the internet."It is not real."This sordid business has recently seen a rapid growth in our country, with a great number of fake sites appearing on the web."People are striving to find their 'other half' and these crooks are like parasites on their feelings and hopes. He had certain hopes which were ruined in the lowest way." Another photograph used by the scammers was that of the Russian singer Alsou, the daughter of a wealthy oil tycoon, who has a penthouse in London and is also happily married.Her pictures were simply ripped off and she was dubbed "Anna Safina".
The photo was actually of Alsou, a Russian pop star and daughter of an oil tycoon "I was enraged that my photograph served the rotten purposes of these swindlers," she said."I wanted to take action myself at first when I discovered the scam."But then I realised our law-enforcement bodies could do it far better than me.One 45-year-old from London, who wanted to remain anonymous, explained how he fell into the trap."I met a woman through the internet.She had a lovely photo, which I now know was taken from a modelling agency brochure.I want to meet you in the evening when you come from your work and kiss you tender, to hold you and to show you all my love." It sounded just too good to be true and, of course, it was.In reality, "Anna" was part of a scam masterminded in Yoshkar-Ola, the scale of which was revealed last week to The Mail on Sunday by the FSB, the Russian secret service, after a series of raids.One professional British man was so taken with the photograph that he sent "her" several thousand pounds, spurred on by a sob story from the nurse about her disabled mother who needed nursing care while she came to visit him in Britain.When he discovered the truth, he was too embarrassed to contact the police.All of them hail from the far-flung outpost of Yoshkar-Ola, close to the Ural Mountains.One willowy beauty is a hard-up nurse who is desperate to leave her impoverished homeland and start a new life with a man in the West. Another is a medical student, though she more closely resembles a nymph-like model from the pages of a glossy magazine.According to investigators, the same photograph was also used to ensnare a 45-year-old German construction worker called Friedrich Deichmann, who eventually parted with €26,000 (£21,500).In this case, the gang used a team of female students, fluent in English, to write to him and even chat on the phone, pretending to be besotted with him.