Heartbroken after a one-year relationship with a man she met while gaming on the Internet ended, Alice (not her real name) went online again to look for love in July.
The 43-year-old IT manager met a man on a popular dating app who claimed he was a Taiwan-born diamond dealer living in the United States. They would chat and call each other every day on messaging platform WhatsApp.
“He told me that after his mother died about five years ago, he felt empty and alone and needed someone in his life,” Alice told reporters yesterday in an interview.
It was arranged by the police to warn others of online love scams, which have been on the rise.
She said the man would send her romantic poems every day and selfies and photos of his life which “seemed so real” that she did not suspect anything.
He also asked her several times to be his girlfriend and said he would come to Singapore to meet her, but she declined as she was still recovering from the break-up.
After just two weeks, the man asked her for a loan of US$5,000 (S$7,000).
Largest amount lost in an Internet love scam in the first six months of this year.
Total amount Internet love-scam victims lost between January and June. This is up 46 per cent from the same period last year.
Number of reported Internet love scams in the first half of this year.
“He said he had a package of diamonds worth US$800,000 and needed help to pay the Customs fee so that the package could reach his clients,” said Alice.
Keen to help her online friend, she transferred the money via Internet mobile banking to a US account under Interaudi Bank.
A few days later, the man claimed he had not received the funds and asked her to make a second transfer.
This time, Alice suspected something was amiss.
Without alerting the man, she checked on the status of the transfer with her bank, which confirmed that it had been successfully made.
Realising he may not have been telling her the truth, Alice sought advice from her sister. She made a police report on Aug 20.
While Alice was lucky enough to eventually get back her money after notifying the police, many other victims of Internet love scams are not.
In the first half of this year, there were 306 such cases reported to the police, up from the 288 cases in the same period last year.
Victims lost a total of $17.1 million between January and June – a 46 per cent increase from the $11.7 million in the same period last year. The largest amount cheated in a single case in the first six months of this year was $2.4 million.
Principal psychologists Carolyn Misir and Jeffery Chin from the Singapore Police Force warned that anyone could become a victim of an Internet love scam.
Scammers often used compliance and persuasion tactics to get victims to transfer money to them, they said.
For example, they may study their targets and create a fake profile to match what their potential victims may find attractive in a partner.
They would also target their victims at a time of vulnerability, such as after the end of a relationship, a divorce or an emotional event, said Ms Misir.
For Alice, her close shave with an Internet love scammer has left her distrustful of others, even in person.
“I’m considered lucky, but I’ve heard other stories where other victims were hurt badly. Don’t put too much trust into these online relationships so you can protect yourself,” she said.