Are you rushing into love just to avoid becoming a member of SMP (Samahan ng Malalamig ang Pasko) this 2023? Love might make the world go ’round, but it seems that some folks are spinning it into a not-so-pleasant spiral.
The Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) is issuing a friendly yet firm reminder to our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) about the perils of online romance, as love scams continue to make headlines.
So, let’s dive right in: The DMW has been keeping a close eye on the rise of online romance and swindling schemes, and they’ve got some wise advice for you. This particular brand of mischief is gunning for our dear OFWs, and we need to shield our hearts (and wallets).
Now, picture this: A Filipina OFW in Switzerland falls head over heels for her “rich foreigner boyfriend.” But here’s the twist – this Romeo turned out to be a scammer who swindled her out of roughly P2.5 million! Yep, you read that right.
“Kami po ay nakikiusap sa mga kababayan natin na huwag magpalinlang sa mga online romance o love scams. Huwag magpapadala sa matatamis na salita ng mga taong hindi ninyo nakita. Marami na po silang mga nabiktima mula sa iba’t-ibang bansa. Maging mapagmatyag po tayo at pahalagahan ang ating ipon na mula sa ating pawis at dugo,” says the vigilant Migrant Workers Office (MWO) – Geneva.
The love scammers’ playbook involves winning your heart, gaining your trust, and then swooping in with their tales of woe, asking for money. They promise to send back a fortune in return by courier or online transaction (spoiler alert: it never arrives). Then, they concoct fake “customs-related issues” or “bank problems” to keep you on their web, persuading you to send even more cash.
But, the DMW has our back. They’re waving their caution flags, urging OFWs to be on their guard.
“They should remain cautious and refrain from giving any amount of their hard-earned money and life savings to their supposed ‘online romantic partners,’” they remind us.
The FBI has a term for these swindlers – love scammers. They’re masters of deception, seemingly caring and oh-so-believable. They’re lurking on dating apps and social media, ready to pounce. Their goal? To establish a connection faster than a cheetah on roller skates, make you swoon, and then ask for money.
These tricksters often pretend to be in glamorous professions like construction projects overseas or as busy business owners, making it easier to dodge face-to-face meetings and more believable when they need money for a “medical emergency” or a “legal fee.”
And if someone you meet online starts fishing for your bank account details, take a giant step back. They’re probably up to no good, using your account for all sorts of shady business.
^ Follow your heart (all the time)
Meanwhile, over in the UAE, the Migrant Workers Office in Dubai hasn’t received official complaints about love scams, but they’re not taking any chances. They’re reminding everyone not to let their hearts rule their wallets.
Atty. John Rio Bautista, the Labor Attaché of the Migrant Workers Office (MWO) Dubai and Northern Emirates, advises, “You should not at all times follow your heart. Given the growing number of victims of online love scams, everyone should NOT be involved with someone whom you met online and showing their love and affection and eventually asking for financial favors for whatever reason. The moment the other person promises huge amount of money in return is already a red flag and we should be aware of it.”
‘Naloko ka na ba?’
In a fun twist, we decided to poll our TFT Facebook followers in a “Tanong ng Bayan” survey asking if they have experienced being love scammed. It turns out that love scams come in all shapes and sizes. Some scammers just want a load recharge, while others use the L-word to open the floodgates of funding. Target? Well, it’s often us, hardworking OFWs and it’s allegedly those with tight budgets who find themselves on Cupid’s con list.
A 33-year-old Personal Assistant in Dubai, whose identity we will protect with the alias ‘Che,’ bravely shared her heart-wrenching ordeal as a victim of a love scam.
Initially driven by compassion, she extended her support to her then-lover ‘Gab’ (real name withheld), who claimed to be battling a severe illness and financial hardship.
She said she felt the need to financially support after learning that Gab thought of resorting to desperate measures just to earn money.
“Yung sahod niya minimum lang po, at may mga obligation sya sa buhay nya, at umabot sa punto na kulang na kulang talaga kita nya,” said Che.
Aside from providing for his necessities, Che lent Gab a substantial sum of 4,800 dirhams, equivalent to approximately 74,000 Philippine pesos, to cover medical expenses.
But as soon as Gab’s sickness went away, his affection for Che appeared to wane. It transpired that Gab had identified a new target while still in a relationship with Che, leaving her financially wounded.
As she reflected on her experience, Che explained, “Yung pakiramdam po is syempre masakit, galit ka, pero kapag totoo yung intention mo sa tao kahit ganun kasakit makahanap ka pa din ng positive sa mga nangyari” (The feeling is, of course, painful, and you’re angry, but when your intentions were genuine, even in the midst of such pain, you can still find something positive in what happened).
Online dating gone wrong
Another Pinoy who fell victim to a love scam is alias Alex, based in Abu Dhabi. His story mirrors that of many others, as he had a similar experience with a woman in Dubai, who went by the name Olive (not her real name). Their love primarily blossomed online through chats in a dating app, and after months of virtual exchanges, Olive seized the opportunity to meet him in person.
She claimed to be in dire straits, pursued by people to whom she owed money, and even mentioned thoughts of self-harm or drastic actions if she didn’t receive financial help.
Deeply moved by her apparent distress, Alex offered assistance by applying for a loan amounting to 12,000 dirhams, roughly equivalent to 185,635 pesos.
Sadly, after the meet-up and lending the money, Olive grew distant, and Alex’s attempts to reach her proved futile. As he tried to contact her through mutual friends, Alex discovered the shocking truth that Olive had been married all along and had used the money to support her family in the Philippines.
Love in LinkedIn?
In contrast, Romina (real name withheld), a Dubai-based Marketing Executive encountered an unexpected twist in her own love scam story when she crossed paths with a scammer on LinkedIn, a professional networking platform.
The scammer, John (not his real name), a foreigner who claimed to be working for an oil company in Ajman in his profile, skillfully transitioned from professional conversations to the realm of romance, gradually deepening their emotional connection.
As a professional, John established a narrative that his work required him to travel to countries like Hong Kong. He further solidified trust by encouraging Romina to conduct online research about his work.
At one point, John asked for help while on one of his business trips in Hong Kong, stating that he had problems with his online bank.
Romina shared a screenshot of their conversation where John asked to borrow at least 26,000 dirhams or approximately 401,000 pesos.
However, it was almost as if her guardian angel intervened because the OTP for Roma’s bank didn’t go through at that moment.
Romina, trusting her instincts, decided to exercise caution, recalling, “The first red flag was when the question about my salary popped up. And by the time I was processing the money, I felt that there was something off.”
Romina’s attentiveness to these warning signs allowed her to evade the clutches of a potential scam artist.
With the digital world making love connections easier than ever, the path to true love is also lined with more pitfalls. Experts, like Transformational and Life Coach Alexandra Reyes from Dubai, suggest staying sharp and knowing one’s worth.
“So, for people who are easily giving or whose love language is giving, it’s important to reflect on what their motivations are to be so giving. Sometimes we get that way because we feel like that’s the only way, we can get other people to love us and if that’s the case, then we need to start taking more steps to recognize our self-worth. Meaningful relationships are built on a shared connection, not on what you can give them or what they can give you,” said Reyes.
Earlier this year, the Abu Dhabi Police highlighted common pitfalls that extortionists and blackmailers exploit. These include weak religious faith, fake relationships, and an inclination to frequent suspicious websites.
Their advice? Don’t accept friend requests from strangers, keep your private photos private, and beware of dating sites doubling as scam hunting grounds.
Read: 7 Tips to protect yourself from ‘Love Scams’: Safeguarding your heart and wallet
What to do
So, what should you do if you find yourself caught in this tangled web of deception?
Remember, firmness is key. Don’t give in to threats, and definitely don’t send money. Instead, report the incident through the proper channels. In Abu Dhabi, the toll-free number is 8002626 (AMAN2626), or you can send an SMS to 2828. In Dubai, reach out to the police through their online portal or dial 901.
And for those OFWs getting love scammed, the DMW Migrant Workers Protection Bureau is also ready to help. You can reach them via their Facebook page or email ([email protected]), as well as their hotline number (8721-0619).
Participating in love scams in the UAE can have serious consequences, falling under the umbrella of the Cybercrime Law as a form of fraud. According to the Federal Law on Information Technology Crimes No. 5 of 2012, specifically Article No. 16, individuals found guilty of extortion could potentially face some hefty penalties. This includes the possibility of spending up to two years behind bars and being hit with a fine ranging from at least 250,000 dirhams to a maximum of 500,000 dirhams. This law applies to anyone who resorts to blackmail or threats using information networks or technology to push someone into doing or refraining from certain actions. So, for anyone thinking about diving into the world of love scams in the UAE, it might be a good idea to reconsider and swipe right on a more legal and less risky path.
In this age of digital connections, love is just a click away, but so are the scammers. So, keep your hearts open but your wallets guarded, because you deserve nothing less than genuine love and happiness.