Have you seen this man? He’s a big deal in Austria — and romance scammers like using his face

Two months ago, I shared the strange story of a man who tried to lure me into a romance scam on Instagram — claiming to be a wealthy oil rig engineer from California, currently working off the coast of Scotland.

“Bobby Brown” told me he was the divorced father of a nine-year-old. His Instagram profile showed Bobby hiking mountains, standing by a river, posing in front of sunlit vineyards. 

He started love-bombing me daily with flattering messages and within weeks, proposed.

“I want you to be MINE and I want to love you til the end of the world,” he wrote.

I eventually called him out. Told him I was a journalist, had never believed he was the man in the photos and asked for an interview. 

He admitted he’s actually a 26-year-old Nigerian. He claimed he lives in poverty and said he preys on women using photos stolen from an attractive man’s Facebook page. 

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But the story was just beginning.

Two weeks after it aired on CBC television, an email arrived in our Go Public in box.

“I am … shocked,” wrote the sender. “Seeing me on your news!” 

Turns out, the real Bobby Brown — or at least, the man in the scammer’s photos — is Sigi Fink, a weatherman from Italy, working for the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation. 

When someone sent him the story, he played the video in disbelief.

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh,'” said Fink. “My heart was beating faster. My mouth was hanging open.”

WATCH | Fink ‘shocked’ by use of photos: 

‘I was shocked,’ says real man in photos used in romance scam

4 days ago

Duration 0:41

Sigi Fink, a meteorologist in Vienna, shares his reaction when he saw his picture on CBC News following a romance scam involving his photos and a Go Public reporter.

Fink, 39, is well-known in Austria, Germany and parts of Switzerland. 

No wallflower, he posts a lot on social media — often shirtless, or working out at the gym — and two years ago was voted sexiest man in Austria.

Fink said he likes to use his face “for good” — entertaining people with his weathercasts — but our story, he said, was the opposite.

“It’s quite a terrible thing to see your face in a news story where people are being harmed,” he said, in an interview from Vienna.

Losing control of one’s image is a growing problem in today’s social media climate, says Nafissa Ismail, a professor of psychology at the University of Ottawa. 

“Most of the time people are completely unaware that their pictures are being used for any purpose other than one that they have been wanting to use it for,” she said. 

A muscular man stands shirtless on a mountainside while holding a scythe.
Fink posts a lot on social media — often shirtless — and was voted sexiest man in Austria two years ago. (Sigi Fink/Instagram)

Having a romance scammer steal and use photos can be quite traumatic for an innocent person, says Ismail. 

“You feel like you’ve been robbed and used in a way that was totally against your values, your morals, your ethical practice.”  

Romance scamming is a growing problem, as more people spend time online, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. It says people lost a reported $15.6 million in romance scams in 2013. In 2023, that figure had ballooned to more than $52 million. 

Dozens of fake profiles

Fink, the weatherman, says he first noticed clouds on the horizon about two years ago.

Every so often, someone would forward a phoney Instagram account that was using his social media pics.

But recently, “fans send me a fake profile every day,” he said. “The scammers are also tagging me. ‘Liking’ my posts. Even using my real name on their fake accounts.”

14 screenshots of Instagram profiles with the same man in the profile picture.
These are just a few of the fake profiles romance scammers have created using photos of Fink. (Graphic by Neil Joyes)

Being in the limelight is one thing, says Fink, but to find himself suddenly in Canada’s news concerned him.

“I thought, ‘I have to tell people I’m innocent,'” he said. “I’m a good guy. I tell the weather. It just feels horrible.” 

“The person may also feel some level of responsibility,” said Ismail. “While I didn’t commit this scam and I was not involved, I sort of was indirectly involved.”.

Fink says sometimes women figure out he’s the actual face in the photos and end up reaching out to him, which is what A.H. did recently. 

The 42-year-old lives near Salzburg, Austria, and fell for a scammer using photos of Fink’s mug. 

CBC News has agreed not to use A.H.’s full name, because she worries about her safety.

A Black man with thin dreadlocks and a red shirt is standing with the back of his head to the camera. He's looking at a phone in his right hand that has a black screen.
The Nigerian man who previously tried to scam a Go Public reporter using Fink’s photo says he regrets what he’s done. (Name withheld/Graphic by Adam Ciolfi)

Her scammer claimed to be an American oil rig engineer working overseas, just like Bobby Brown, but said his name was “Dave Owen.”

“He asked me every day how I was doing, how my day was,” said A.H. “It felt like I found my soulmate.”

Six weeks after connecting, “Dave” claimed he’d lost his credit card. 

Requests for money became daily occurrences. 

Before long, she’d sent $10,000. 

She says when she finally stopped sending money, the scammer told her to pray for her safety, warning that he knows where she lives and works.

WATCH | Who is ‘Bobby Brown’? 

Go Public’s Erica Johnson meets man whose face was used in effort to scam her

13 hours ago

Duration 2:10

CBC’s Erica Johnson updates her recent Go Public story about an online romance scam by meeting the man whose face was used to target her. Turns out he’s a well-known personality in Austria.

One night, while scrolling through Facebook, she stumbled across an account with the exact photos her love interest had sent her. 

“I saw the name. Sigi Fink. Weatherman,” said A.H. “I had to throw up. I thought I was going to collapse. I knew that I had fallen for a scammer.” 

And not just any scammer. After a bit of digging, Go Public figured out it was the same one who claimed to be “Bobby Brown”.

“I have to laugh,” said A.H., despite her devastating experience. “We have the same scammer!”

When I checked that Nigerian scammer’s Instagram account, he seemed to be doing quite well – recently posting a video that showed him modelling what appeared to be new gold chain necklaces and a new Apple watch.

A woman with dark brown hair and a black shirt sitting in front of white curtain and looking directly at the camera.
Psychology professor Nafissa Ismail says people who have their images stolen by scammers can feel violated, stressed and responsible for the harm caused. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)

I told him we now know the actual person in the photos he’s ripped off; that it’s causing Fink stress.

“I’m very sorry,” he wrote. “How I wish I could apologize to Fink in person.”

I also told him we’d found A.H., one of the women he’s conned — not just financially, but emotionally. 

“Honestly, I’m sorry,” he wrote. “I regret what I have done.”

A.H. says she doesn’t believe him, and has filed a police report.

Be vigilant

Fink also went to the police, anxious to keep his name clean. 

Fink says the police officer took his statement, but warned him there was likely little that authorities could do.

Ismail says there are things people can do to slow a scammer’s scheme. First: Be vigilant about who can see your details online. 

She says people should occasionally do a reverse image search using their online photos, to see where else they turn up – reporting anything illicit to the social media platforms.

“Keeping a general eye on the situation could … detect them early enough, before there’s actually been a financial scam,” she said.

Fink says he has done that, but it’s time-consuming and doesn’t seem to be making a difference. He also says he loves engaging on social media, and says he can’t lock down his accounts due to his job.

Instead, he says, he’s trying to make peace with the fact that there’s little he can do — comparing romance scammers to the tentacles of an octopus. 

“They reach everywhere,” said Fink. 

Then he pulled out his phone and recorded a video — him in Vienna, me on the phone in Vancouver — a “story” to post on his Instagram account. 

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