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Beware the Cyber Lover and His Ploys
Recent police statistics have revealed a growing number of women falling into the clutches of their virtual paramours.

A guy befriends a lady online.

He drops her chummy notes and at times, an uplifting quote or two.

The platonic exchanges soon segue into love poems, laced with syrupy whispers of “sweetheart” and “honey”.

Eventually, the guy makes a plea for financial aid and the lady presents him a handsome sum.

With that, the swindler has wheedled his way past the lady’s heart… and into her coffers.

If truth is stranger than fiction, internet love scams can be as bewildering as they are real.

Just this quarter, the police reported a grand $7.5 million cheated through such romantic dupery.

Last year, police statistics reported a 47 per cent increase in commercial crimes from 2014, largely driven by cheating involving e-commerce, credit-for-sex and internet love scams.

Head of Financial Crime Policy and Operations at the Commercial Affairs Department Ms Yolanda Yu cited technology advancements and increased connectivity through smart phones, social networking sites and mobile apps as reasons for the growing trend of online crime.

The largest sum cheated in a single case of internet love scam this year was $1.2 million.

The victim, Mary (not her real name), was a lonely 59-year-old married administrator who became romantically involved with an “American” named Tom who claimed to be an engineer and an investor.

Tom first promised that he would come to Singapore to live with her, and later, bring $5 million in cash to Singapore through an intermediary called John.

John made a series of excuses duping Mary into transferring large amounts of money to him in order to release the $5 million Tom had pledged her. 
Mary eventually parted with a total of about $1.2 million in savings and loans from banks, insurance and friends, and never got to meet Tom.

 Head of Financial Crime Policy and Operations at the Commercial Affairs Department Ms Yolanda Yu and Senior Investigation Officer from the Commercial Crime Squad at Jurong Police Division SSI Mr Yusri Mohamed Yusoff gave their insights on internet love scams, which have been on the rise in recent years. PHOTO: Denise Lee

In recent years, scammers have tapped on a wider variety of platforms such as dating apps and social networking sites to dangle their baits, but their ruse has not seen much change.

“In most cases, the culprits take the guise of middle-class engineers, researchers, businessmen or army officers. Their profile photos are typically that of an attractive-looking Caucasian man,” said Senior Station Inspector (SSI) Mr Yusri Mohamed Yusoff, a Senior Investigation Officer from the Commercial Crime Squad at Jurong Police Division.

“After befriending his victim online, the culprit builds trust with her over a period of time, which could be anywhere between a few days to over a year. During this period, he showers her with a lot of attention and affection,” he said.

In some cases, the culprit may claim to be in financial woe or have been detained by the authorities.

He may also claim to be sending an expensive parcel that requires customs clearance fees.

According to the police, 87 per cent of internet love victims are women aged between 30 and 59 years old. They are either single, married or divorced and hold professions ranging from housewives and cleaners to executives and managers.

In over half of these internet love scam cases, the culprits had approached their victims on Facebook.

Other platforms of choice include dating websites such as Meetup.com, Okcupid and Skout.

SSI Yusri, who has been investigating cheating cases for four years, said there is no established pattern to the way the culprits select their victims.

“The ones who fall prey are usually women who are lonely, face marital problems or whose spouses work abroad for the long term,” he said.

There have been reported cases of male victims too, but these are rare, he added.

One internet love scam victim was a 50-year-old employed widow with two adult children.

After losing her husband, she was swindled by a scammer who befriended her online.

Within two months, she had transferred about half a million dollars' worth of insurance money and a bank loan to a courier for the culprit.

It was only at the behest of her daughter, who was convinced that her mother had been scammed, that the widow lodged a police report.

“The victim was in denial that the culprit had been exploiting her. She claimed that she had not transferred money to him, but to a courier,” said SSI Yusri.

According to him, most victims only smell a rat after they have transferred the money, land in debt, or when their family members find out about their situation.

“The victims contact the police to help them recover their money, but some of them remain emotionally attached to the culprit,” said SSI Yusri.

Some victims are also reluctant to provide the police their chat logs with the culprit, or claim to have deleted them, hampering investigation efforts.

In most cases, chances of retrieving the money are “very slim”.

According to SSI Yusri, the toughest part in dealing with these victims is the uncertainty of whether they truly heed the police’s advice to cut ties with the culprit and avoid befriending strangers online.

Ms Yu, who monitors local trends of cheating cases, said internet love scams are believed to be carried out by foreign syndicates, which make tracking them down particularly challenging.

“We see a lot of money going overseas to countries such as China and Malaysia, but it is difficult to determine the nationality of the culprits,” she said.

Other challenges include the anonymity cyberspace affords as “everyone is faceless on the internet”, and the transboundary nature of cybercrime.

“Each law enforcement agency operates within its own country’s legal boundaries. In this age where transnational crime is prevalent, there is a need for cross border cooperation. Local and foreign police have to work together [on such crimes]; we cannot operate unilaterally,” she said.

Joint law enforcement efforts have led to breakthroughs in online scam syndicates.

In December 2015, 43 members of a fraud syndicate were arrested in China through the collaboration between the Singapore and Chinese police.

The Singapore Police Force has issued numerous advisories on the web, as well as through press releases and their social media platforms to warn the public about online scams.

It also encourages individuals to raise awareness of online scams among their family and friends.

SSI Yusri said the key telltale sign that one’s cyber lover is a fraudster is when he asks for money.

“I always tell [the victims] that love doesn’t involve money. It is okay to get to know people online, but you must know that while you may give your real identity, the other party’s could just be virtual,” he said. 
The police have also recently received frequent reports of parcel phone scams. In a typical case, the caller informs the victims that their personal particulars had been used to send parcels containing fake passports or weapons. The calls are later transferred to another person masquerading as a police or customs officer, who asks for the victim’s personal particulars such as their identification number and bank account number. For more information on such scams and how you should respond to them, see the police’s advisory

Protect yourself from fraud today. Find out how at http://www.scamalert.sg.

© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.

  1. by Denise Lee
  2. 11 June 2016
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