Romance scams: Losing money to fake lovers

By Kim Ngan, Hai Hang   September 8, 2022 | 09:29 pm PT
Romance scams: Losing money to fake lovers
Many women fall prey to romance scams online. Photo by Reuters
Lots of online scams have surfaced recently, including love traps targeting single women and single moms that seek to take advantage of their loneliness and, arguably, greed.

On Aug. 17 police in Ninh Binh Province arrested a person with the Facebook username ‘Chang Kho’ (rough translation: Mr. Fool) for allegedly making acquaintance with single women in Hanoi and Nam Dinh and Hai Duong provinces and scamming them out of hundreds of millions of dong (VND100 million= $4,246).

A few days earlier, according to police in Binh Phuoc Province, an S’tieng ethnic woman was similarly duped.

In both cases the men approached single women on social media and pretended to be successful businessmen.

They then tried to create sympathy for themselves by saying they had unhappy marriages and divorced their wives.

Claiming to live abroad, they promised the women they would come to Vietnam to build a new life with them.

After ostensibly building trust over a period of time, the scammers said they wanted to send some expensive gifts to the women to show how serious they were about the relationships.

They then sprung the trap.

Hoa of Ho Chi Minh City, who is separated from her husband, was one of the victims.

She says: "At first that person sent me a friend request on Facebook. His account did not seem like a fake account. He had family photos on it. So I accepted his friend request without any precaution.

"Then he texted me. He claimed to be a Japanese living in the Netherlands, working in real estate and very successful. It was his bait."

The man told her he had a daughter. After a few months, when his daughter's birthday was coming close, he claimed to have bought gifts for both his daughter and Hoa.

"I said I would not take it. Then he took a picture of the gifts and sent it to me, and persuaded me to accept them. Moments later, the man said he also put US$100,000 in cash in the package, and the money would be lost if I didn't accept it. I was afraid he would lose such a large amount of money, and thought it was impolite to refuse.

"So I sent him my phone number and address."

Hai An, a divorced woman in Hanoi, fell prey to exactly the similar trick, but in her case the "value" of the money was VND7 billion.

She says: "He said he was 35 years old and living abroad. He claimed to be a successful businessman with a son. He had divorced his wife and was single, and so wanted to get to know me.

"He said he wanted to send me birthday presents of an iphone, jewelry, a handbag, and a large amount of money."

He tried to convince her to accept his "sincere love," she says.

"He said he put $300,000 in cash in that gift package. He was afraid that if I did not accept it, he would lose the money and expensive gifts.

"That night he kept texting me, making me so worried that I couldn’t sleep."

A few days after the victims provided their personal information including names, dates of birth, phone numbers, delivery addresses, people claiming to be airline employees or customs officers contacted them and demanded payment of shipping fees.

After the victims paid the fees, the scammer groups continued to force them to pay more, citing a variety of reasons.

Some of the fake customs officers said they had to pay fines for sending cash by air.

Since she trusted the man, Hoa claims, she simply followed the instructions of the fake officials and transferred nearly VND500 million.

"A woman pretending to be an airline employee asked me to pay a shipping fee of VND18 million. I sent it to her without a twinge of suspicion.

"Then she said I had to pay VND130 million more in fines for sending cash by air. I continued to believe her and transferred the money. At that time I did not realize I had been tricked."

Her "lover" then convinced her to pay another VND300 million to the customs officers.

"I did as he said. I don't understand why I trusted him."

Explaining the tricks used by these scammers, Chris Connell, global cybersecurity company Kaspersky’s CEO for the Asia - Pacific region, says as people get older, they have savings but feel lonely.

Cybercriminals understand and take advantage of this fact as well as people’s desire to be loved, he says.

They are good at using technology to deceive their victims, he adds.

According to Kaspersky, of more than 1,000 social media users in Southeast Asia who participated in a survey, 45% had lost money in online romance scams.

Seniors suffer the most, with nearly a quarter of old respondents losing $5,000-10,000.

Hoa says: "He said his wife had an affair and abandoned him. I felt sad for him and so I replied to his messages. Most importantly, he made video calls to me, showing me his daughter. But now I think he created the videos by using technology.

"I felt sympathy for him because he said he was a single father raising his daughter alone. I am a single mother and I know raising a kid is not easy. He said he would come to Vietnam to buy real estate, open a real estate company here and have a new life with me."

When she realized she had fallen into a trap and reported it to the police, she was upset to learn there were many victims like her.

"Nobody got their money back. The police told me that they have scam rings abroad. The police are investigating the bank account that I transferred my money to. But it is possible that they have already withdrawn all of the money."

Speaking about the cases, the police said they followed a pattern of people claiming to be foreigners or living abroad and befriending single women on social media.

The accounts into which the women paid money were all personal accounts in banks in Vietnam.

Because the criminals are anonymous and operate transnationally, it is difficult for the police to find them.

The police warn citizens not to put out personal information on social media, and not reveal the OTP code to anyone for any reason when using a bank account.

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