Soulmates or Scammers? Russian Girls on Marriage Agency Websites
So you’re looking for a bride. For various reasons, you haven’t managed to find one at home. So you turn to Google and land on a Russian marriage agency website. The women appear to be a cut above mail-order brides from other countries – on screen, at least.
Not only are they beautiful, but also smart, educated and family-oriented. On screen, at least. The question is, how do you know that what you see is what you get? The answer: you don’t. But there are ways to reduce the risks.
Here’s the scoop.
Understand Their Motivation
First, you need to understand the real reasons so many Russian women are willing to take the risk of marrying a stranger from overseas (the same holds for Ukrainians, Belorussians, and other women from former Soviet countries). If you’re honest with yourself, you'll realize that it’s not because of your charms. There are other factors at play:
- Opportunities for their children. Russia is blessed with natural resources and has the potential to be an economic superpower. But the benefits do not necessarily accrue to the most talented. Instead, they accrue to the corrupt and most connected. If you are a woman from a small, provincial city, or do not have good connections, these opportunities will pass you by. More importantly, they will pass your children by. Marrying a foreigner is a way out.
- Greater equality. Although Russian women usually work full-time, they also bear most of the responsibilities in the home, from child-rearing to housework. There is a perception that Western men are willing to do more in the home.
- Shortage of suitable men. In Russia, as well as in many other developing countries, there is a shortage of marriageable men. This is especially true in major cities and among the best educated. One reason for this is that women are more likely to migrate from small towns and villages. Another is that many men are unemployed, alcoholics or in prison. True or not, many Russian women perceive Western men as better providers, more stable, more reliable, less abusive, and more family-oriented. Comments by women on Russian marriage agency websites tell the story: "I want to find a civilized, educated, kind person," or "I would like him not to drink a lot and not to be a gambling man."
- Escape from poverty. Although there is plenty of poverty in the West, Russians often equate Westerners with wealth. This is partly because most Western men in Russia or the former Soviet Union have good jobs and are wealthy in comparison to most of the local population. Many indicators of success in Russia, such as owning a car, living in a single-family home with land, or living apart from your parents, are the norm in the United States. And with the Russian economy tanking, poverty is likely to skyrocket. Desperation is pushing more Russian women to look for alternatives elsewhere.
- Escape from authoritarian life. Russia, and other countries of the former Soviet Union, may have escaped Communism, but none have fully escaped corrupt, authoritarian regimes except for the Baltic nations. Russia today is not a free country and is getting worse. Many young people find it easier to emigrate than to stay home and fight for democratic freedom. For women, especially attractive ones, the easiest way to get out of Russia is to marry a foreigner.
What does this mean for a Western man? Basically, it means you have the chance to marry a woman who would be out of your league at home.
How Russian Marriage Agencies Work
A Russian marriage agency is nothing more than a matchmaking service that uses the Internet to help Western men find brides in Russia (and other countries of the former Soviet Union). Matchmaking services are nothing new – they’ve been around as long as marriage has. The reason is simple: demand is strong, from both men and women.
But there are risks for everyone involved. Scam artists take advantage of both the men and women through fake agencies. Some women are out to bilk Western men, and some Western men are just after a sex holiday in Russia. But with a little research, planning, and common sense, these risks can be managed.
Although practices vary from agency to agency, the basic process is as follows:
- Russian women register with an agency, which posts their profiles on the Internet.
- Foreign men browse the profiles online. They correspond with women who interest them through the site.
- In some agencies, men can also post a profile, allowing women to contact them.
- Both men and women correspond with a number of potential mates.
- Eventually, face-to-face meetings take place. Most often, the Western man goes on a “marriage tour” organized by the agency. The idea is that he can meet a number of women he has been writing to in one trip.
- The list of potential partners is honed down.
- If all goes well, a romance is sparked and a couple is born, eventually leading to marriage.
How Marriage Agencies Make Money
Marriage agencies make money at almost every phase of the process. It’s important to know what their incentives are – they do not always have the clients’ best interests at heart.
- Women pay fees to enter their profiles.
- Men pay fees for the right to contact the women, charging fees to forward correspondence.
- Because many women do not know English, the agency collects a fee for translation services and for forwarding correspondence.
- Many agencies charge for gift delivery.
- Agencies offer multiple services, for a fee, for men who go on marriage tours, including accommodation, tickets, translators.
- The agency’s websites often have ads – often for other marriage agency sites.
- Agencies also peddle profiles or photos of women, sometimes without their knowledge or consent.
Many marriage agencies provide these services professionally and for reasonable fees. But there are also many opportunities for dishonest agencies to extract cash from the men, women, or both.
Some Common Marriage Agency Scams
Are all Russian women who use marriage agencies honest women who want nothing more than a happy family life? No. Some agencies are set up solely to separate lonely Western men from their money. The main way to do this is through the services they offer. For example:
- Fake women. Some agencies don’t have actual women in their database. Instead, they post fake profiles of beautiful women and have a team of writers who send romantic e-mails to Western men. Some of these ghost writers are actually men. Then the agency charges for translations and for forwarding the messages. Some even solicit gifts.
- Scam translations. In other cases, the agency intentionally mis-translates correspondence so that potential brides appear to recommend their services.
- Travel expense fraud. Some women will ask for money to finance a trip to visit you. They might just ask for ticket money, or may say that they need money for the visa or for a company that can organize the trip. After you send the money, they disappear, or come up with more reasons (which require additional payments) that they cannot make the trip. A good rule of thumb: if a Russian woman asks for money in order to see you, it’s is probably a scam, even if she sends copies of visas or tickets. These are often fake.
- Scams on your visit. If you visit your prospective bride’s country, there is a chance of being scammed. Your prospective bride may recommend a travel agency, accommodation or other service which will either overcharge you or just take your money and run.
- Sick relatives. Another common scam is claiming that there has been a family tragedy. It could be an accident. Or cancer. Whatever the ailment, it will cost a lot of money to fix. Don’t be surprised if your prospective bride asks for cash for medical treatment. Don't be afraid to say no, she's probably asking five other guys as well.
In brief, if you are ever asked for money beyond the stated fees, or if the fees seem unreasonable, it is probably a scam. If the potential bride makes these requests, report it to the agency. An honest agency will take action.
These are just the risks during the courting stage. If you go through with the marriage, you’ll have to deal with other problems. The big one: if your bride gets through culture shock and adapts well, she might think she can do better. It’s not unusual for mail-order brides to drop their husbands as soon as they get permanent residency.
Does this mean that all women on marriage agency sites are out to take advantage of you? Not at all. Many are decent and honest and simply want a good life with a good man. A Western man using the services of a marriage agency should simply keep his eyes open, and be aware of the motives of potential brides and the agency he works with.
What to Look for in a Russian Marriage Agency
Before taking the first step, consider what might motivate a woman to seek a foreign husband and make sure you’re comfortable with that. Then decide if you want to go with an international agency or a local one. An international agency may seem like a safer route to go, but these agencies operate from a distance and do not have personal contact with their women clients. Local agencies can potentially provide much more personalized service.
If you decide to work with a Russian marriage agency, do your research and ask a lot of questions. Here are some things to look for:
- Name and contact information of the owner. The better sites clearly state who owns them and provides a local physical address, phone numbers, and e-mail. Be wary of agencies with an address is an off-shore tax haven or which only has overseas contact information. When you do get a phone number, try Googling it. Also, check to see if the e-mail address uses their own domain. Serious businesses don’t use free sites, like Yahoo! or Mail.ru.
- Women of varying appearances and ages. If all the women in the database are drop-dead gorgeous, be suspicious, especially if they’re in sexy poses. In real life, a number of women seeking foreign husbands will be in their 30s, 40s, even 50s. Some of them will pretty, but many will be average or plain. A legitimate site is more likely to have a variety of types.
- Reasonably prices services. If any Russian marriage agency offers their services at low or no cost, it is likely to be a scam. Free service is bait, and won’t be free in the long run.
- Clear process for selecting women clients. The best agencies interview each women in person and verify their identities. They get an idea of what the woman is like, which helps with the human side of matchmaking. Try to avoid agencies that act as go-betweens and don’t come into contact with women clients. This is where local agencies have an advantage over large, international ones.
- Optional services that are really optional. Good agencies will offer all services needed to help make a match, but won’t insist that you use them. For example, many will arrange local accommodation and translation services. But they should not object if you can make your own arrangements. If they do, be suspicious.
- Willingness to answer questions. Picking a wife is serious business, and mistakes are costly. So ask a lot of questions. Good agencies will answer them. Bad ones will get irritated with you or will not be able to provide good answers. If this happens, walk away.
- Referrals. Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals from past clients. Good agencies will be glad to give them to you – what could be better than free advertising?
- Positive reviews in dating forums and local English-language newspapers. Some online searching should bring up information from independent sources. Local English language papers write about marriage agencies from time to time, and clients often share their experiences in online forums.
If you’re interested in finding a foreign wife, Russian marriage agencies are definitely an option to look at. Don’t be put off by the risks; instead, use common sense and manage them. If anything smells fishy, it probably is. But if you do your homework, you might end up with a fabulous life partner.
Just be careful.