Singapore

Fewer cases of internet love scams, thanks to efforts of task force

Task force addressing problem by freezing scam accounts, investigating money mules

Fake Romeos, watch out.

A task force set up by the police last October to tackle crimes such as online love scams has already seen encouraging results. It has contributed to a decline in the cases of Internet love scams, said a police spokesman yesterday.

Last month, there were 41 cases reported to the police, a drop from 102 in September.

In such cases, victims may be duped into falling in love with fraudsters through social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Tinder, he said.

The conmen may go on to cheat victims of their money or employ them as money mules.

The task force has tried to address the problem by freezing the local accounts of scam beneficiaries in order to cut the flow of funds to foreign scam syndicates, said the spokesman.

It investigated more than 200 money mules and seized at least $1 million from about 300 accounts from October to last month.

"We need to be fast and nimble... Once we have the reports, we can check if they are linked to other reports or groups behind them," the spokesman said.

The task force, which now has six investigators but which will double to 12 next month, also worked with Royal Malaysia Police between December and January to arrest 11 suspects in 10 cases of online love scams here and in Malaysia.

Despite the recent success, Internet love scams have become a growing problem here, with 825 reported cases here last year, involving a record $37 million in all.

Rosie (not her real name) fell for a man she met on Facebook early last year. She lost $8,000 and nearly became a money mule too.

Speaking to reporters at a police press conference, the 70-year-old said the man had added her on Facebook and liked her posts. They started talking online, and also chatted on the phone, with him calling her "honey" and "darling".

"It felt good to have a young and handsome man give me attention and treat me so well," said Ms Rosie, whose husband works as an odd-job labourer.

The dalliance went on for about a year. Then, earlier this year, the man told her his friend's child was in hospital and needed $10,000 for treatment.

Rosie transferred $8,000 - most of her life savings - to him when he asked her to let him use her account to accept $9,000 from another account in Singapore.

He told her to withdraw the money and remit the money to another woman in Malaysia.

But an officer from the Commercial Affairs Department called her before she could do so and advised her to cut off communication with the man.

She did, but her nightmare ended only last month, when he stopped harassing her.

COURT & CRIME