Hong Kong professionals looking for romance are among those duped out of their savings so far this year, and care must be taken not to fall into the clutches of fraudsters
There is a temptation to dismiss those scammed online by purported lovers as uneducated or foolish. But of the 119 in Hong Kong duped out of a total of HK$75.9 million in the first three months of the year, almost 12 per cent were professionals.
One, a woman in her 40s and manager for a financial institution, was swindled out of a record HK$14 million. But words can be powerful, especially when in the hands of criminals expertly versed in how to use them on the romantic and lonely, and particularly when their victims think with their hearts rather than their heads.
That is how the manager came to have an eight-year relationship with a man claiming to be a British film director. He was so convincing that he was able to string the “affair” out for so long without meeting his victim, and persuading her to make more than 200 transactions to bank accounts in Hong Kong and Malaysia. The woman was so love-struck that when she emptied her own accounts, she turned to her family for more – and only realised then that she had been cheated. Police were alerted and investigations are under way, but with the funds having been transferred, there is no certainty any will be recovered.
It is easy to demonise victims, blaming them for ignoring telltale signs. Online scams are rising in number and police and officials regularly warn about the risks and the need to be alert. But those searching for love and romance need to take even greater care as the fraudsters targeting dating sites and social media have perfected their charms, knowing when and how to ask questions to get their way. A lonely person can in such circumstances easily fall prey to a potential suitor who appears attractive, inviting and trusting.
A dose of scepticism can help.
Researching a potential love interest online, getting a second opinion from friends or family and withholding personal details is a good starting point.
Instinct is important in safeguarding the love-struck from being cheated, with the ofttimes reality that if something is too good to be true, it probably is.
The police Anti-Deception Coordination Centre has also posted sage advice on its website: “Beware of online romance scammers who want money, not love.”