In one of the biggest ‘romance scams’ in terms of the amount lost, a 79-year-old Mulund resident lost more than Rs 1.5 crore after responding to a “woman” he met on a European social media app in May this year.
The man, formerly an engineer with a reputed company, ended up pawning his wife’s jewellery and was also on the verge of selling his house to pay the woman, police said.
It was only when his US-based son became suspicious after learning his father was making inquiries about selling the house and flew down to their residence that he found the septuagenarian was being conned.
The Mulund police have recorded his statement and are in the process of registering an FIR.
In his police complaint, the victim said he had subscribed to a European social media platform where he met a “Spanish woman” in May this year. The woman who identified herself as Vivian Lovett (41) told him she was born in the US, later moved to Spain with her two children and had lost her husband. She further told him that she worked with the Red Cross Society “affiliated with the UN”. Over a period of time the two moved to WhatsApp and communicated regularly.
In June, the woman told him that she was sending him a parcel containing a laptop, mobile phone and jewellery. When he refused, the woman told him that it was something he could give to orphanages in Mumbai. In July, however, the 79-year-old got a call from one “Radhika Sharma from Customs clearance in Delhi”. “Sharma” told him there was a gift that had been sent from Spain but it also had foreign currency, so he would have to pay exchange duty. Initially, he paid Rs 50,000 for which he received an e-mail with a forged letterhead of Delhi Customs, an officer said.
Later, “Sharma” called up again and said as the amount involved was huge, “Lovett” will have to come to India. A week later, “Lovett” told the 79-year-old she had been arrested at Delhi airport. “Sharma” told the victim the woman had been carrying a lot of money in foreign currency and arrested for money laundering. She told the 79-year-old that in order to free “Lovett”, he would have to make payments. Scared, the victim pawned his wife’s jewellery and paid Rs 30 lakh. Till early November under various pretexts, “Sharma” kept calling the victim and made him pay money. When the demands continued, the 79-year-old planned to sell off his house and began making enquiries with his relatives. One of his relatives informed the victim’s US-based son about the enquiries his father was making. The son then came to the city in November first week and asked his father about the reason behind selling the house. On checking his father’s phone, he found the chats he had exchanged with the “Spanish woman” and realised his father had been scammed, an officer said.
Cyber expert Shubham Singh said, “The romance scam has been around for quite a while where fraudsters create social media profiles or profiles on matrimonial websites and pretend to be based out of another country. The social media platforms should also ensure that such fake profiles are deleted.”