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Internet love scammers target those who are emotionally vulnerable, say police

SINGAPORE — Internet love scammers are luring Singaporeans in growing numbers, by choosing emotionally vulnerable victims such as those who just ended a relationship, police said on Wednesday (Sept 4).

Police warn that Internet love scammers will often assume profiles of people in senior positions such as lawyers or businessmen.

Police warn that Internet love scammers will often assume profiles of people in senior positions such as lawyers or businessmen.

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SINGAPORE — Internet love scammers are luring Singaporeans in growing numbers, by choosing emotionally vulnerable victims such as those who just ended a relationship, police said on Wednesday (Sept 4).

Scammers also create online profiles that make them more appealing to their victims, whose profiles they have studied, they added.

The total amount cheated of Internet love scam victims in the first half of 2019 surged 46 per cent from S$11.7 million in the first half of 2018 to S$17.1 million in the same period this year, they said. The number of cases rose 6 per cent to 306 cases in the same period, police said.

The police drew attention to the largest sum cheated in a single case — about S$2.4 million — although they did not disclose further details of the case.

Principal psychologists for the Singapore Police Force Carolyn Misir and Jeffery Chin said at a media briefing on Wednesday that people in their late 30s and 40s are more prone to be contacted by scammers through dating apps.

Principal psychologists for the Singapore Police Force Carolyn Misir and Jeffery Chin warn that Internet love scammers study their victims carefully. Photo: Nabilah Awang

Older victims tend to be contacted through social media platforms such as Facebook, they said.

The police arranged for the media to interview an Internet love scam victim, 43-year-old Alice (not her real name).

After breaking up with her boyfriend of one year, the infocomm technology manager went on a trip to Taiwan in a bid to heal her broken heart and found a man named “Francis” on a dating app, although they never met in person.

POEMS EVERY MORNING, EVENING... THEN SIGNS OF TROUBLE

When she returned to Singapore, the pair was texting every day and Francis — who claimed to be a United States-based Taiwanese working in the shipping business — sent her love poems every morning and evening.

“I would talk to him on the phone for two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening. He told me he was very close to his mother and he was lonely when she passed five years ago,” Alice said.

But several warning signs emerged in the first two weeks.

Firstly, Francis listed his age as 39 on the app but then told Alice that he was actually 44. He also made excuses when she wanted to video call him, claiming that he had dropped his phone in water and could not use the camera.

Her suspicions grew stronger when he told her that he had ordered diamonds from a shipping agent and his package “did not go through” because there was a problem with his bank account.

That was when Francis asked Alice for help to transfer US$5,000 (S$6,900) into a foreign bank account, claiming that it was the account of an agent.

“The first account he asked me to transfer to was an Italian bank account, I faced some problems with the transfer so it didn’t go through,” she said.

Against her better judgment, Alice transferred a second time, to a US-based bank account given by Francis.

Three days after the transaction, he told her adamantly that he did not receive the funds.

“He kept calling and texting me to say that he did not receive it and to check with the bank,” Alice said.

This raised a red flag as she had transferred funds overseas numerous times.

She consulted her sister and housemate, and decided to lodge a police report. She then called the bank to trace the money, which was returned to her account after two weeks.

VICTIMS 'MORE VULNERABLE, IN DISTRESS'

Ms Misir said that Alice was lucky because she was savvy enough to figure out something was wrong, but not many are as fortunate.

“Scammers will try to catch victims who have recently been through a difficult time like a divorce, a break-up, loss of employment or losing a loved one. They are usually more vulnerable and in distress,” she said.

Mr Chin added that victims who are prone to falling prey to Internet love scams also tend to be very romantic — believing that there is someone out there for them and that love will come quickly.

He pointed out that scammers usually portray themselves as someone holding a senior position or with authority, such as businessmen, engineers or lawyers. They appear to be religious, God-fearing and filial to make it seem like they can be trusted, he added.

“They are usually successful but still have some levels of vulnerability, it makes the person look authentic and human,” said Mr Chin.

He added that in the age of digitalisation, people disclose a lot of personal information online, making it easy for scammers to study them.

The scammers will then create a profile that matches the victim’s hobbies, interest or profession.

Those who are Internet-savvy should not be complacent about the likelihood of falling prey to a scam, said the psychologists.

They advised members of the public to consult a friend or family member and share their suspicions if they find themselves in such a position.

“A lot of the victims have felt suspicious at some point but most of them choose to go against their better judgment because it’s not easy for them to let go of this bond (with the scammer),” said Mr Chin.

The police set up a new Anti-Scam Centre in June this year in an effort to disrupt scammers.

Through the centre, banks are able to freeze accounts in question swiftly — where it would take several days previously — and telcos are alerted immediately to terminate phone lines used by scammers.

Related topics

love scam cheating money

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