Divorcee scammed $6,000 by Internet love cheat
She nearly lost it all: Money, her freedom and a potential husband.
All because she was charmed by a lover whom she met online.
He ended up cheating her of around $6,000 and recruited her as a money mule in a suspected international money laundering operation, which is a jailable offence.
Miss Tan (not her real name) is among 82 people who fell victim to such scams from January to June this year.
The 25-year-old single mother of a two-year-old boy had decided to join an online divorce support group on a community website in March.
There, she thought she had met the man of her dreams: A Californian in his 30s, who worked in a high-paying job in the marine industry.
He claimed to be a single parent of two young boys.
Going by the name Alan, he told her that his wife had died recently and he was orphaned as a child when his parents were killed in a car accident.
"Because of this, he told me his children were his only family, which was exactly how I felt," said the admin and accounts executive.
The two grew closer after he provided pictures of himself and his children, which later turned out to be fake.
Said Miss Tan: "We started talking about our kids, about love, about my divorce. I had also just gotten out of another relationship then and was vulnerable. He would shower me with attention.
"The more I shared about myself, the closer we got. He even said he was going to move here with his children."
Two weeks after he introduced himself, Alan told her he sent a parcel containing toys and presents for her son, as well as US$3,000 (S$3,700) in cash.
That was when everything started unravelling.
Said Miss Tan: "I didn't expect him to send me anything."
True enough, she got a call from someone who claimed to be a delivery man.
"He told me that I had to pay a tax of $300 to receive the parcel. The next day, he told me I had to pay $1,000 for insurance. And he called again another day, to ask for more money to resolve this problem," said Miss Tan.
"This went on eight times and the delivery man told me these payments would be refunded once I got the parcel.
"In the meantime, Alan also kept encouraging me to pay, otherwise I'd never receive his gift."
Through interbank transfers, she paid the man $6,000 in total over a month, of which $4,000 was borrowed from her friends and colleagues.
(ALMOST) ROBBED OF FREEDOM
When she couldn't pay any more, Alan told her that a colleague of his could help with the payments, but only if she helped him remit money from other people to Nigeria, via her Singapore bank account.
Playing on her love for her child, Miss Tan was told that the money were donations to help build an orphanage and a school for orphans there.
In all, she received and remitted around $10,000 to the "orphanage".
It was only after a woman from the community website warned her about Alan did she finally suspect something was up.
As it turned out, Alan had tricked this woman too, enticing her to transfer money using similar methods.
Said Miss Tan: "When I asked her who had she been transferring money to, I was shocked when she said it went to my bank account."
She called the police, who told her that it was a crime to receive and transfer such funds.
"The investigators did not believe that I had not heard of such scams at first. They thought I knew of my participation in a crime, but I really didn't."
On Wednesday, she was cleared of her involvement in a money laundering operation, but was issued a warning letter, she said.
CHEATED OF HER FEELINGS
Now, she said she has lost faith in men, after going through a divorce with a cheating partner, suffering a recent break-up and then being conned by Alan.
"I feel so stupid for paying all that money. I could have saved up that money for my son," she said.
She blames herself for falling prey to such a trick.
"All I hoped for was a man who could accept us, but I don't have that hope any more. It is just me and my son now."
The more I shared about myself, the closer we got. He even said he was going to move here with his children.
- Miss Tan, who got to know Alan through an online divorce support group
Divorcee scammed $6,000 by Internet love cheat
To carry out Internet love scams, scammers often target women in their 40s to 60s who have strong romantic tendencies.
This means that they believe there is someone out there who can sweep them off their feet, said senior psychologist Jeffery Chin, who studies criminal behaviour.
From January to June this year, there was a 273-per cent increase in such cases as compared to the same period last year.
The assistant director of the crime, investigation and forensic psychology branch at the Home Team Behavioural Sciences Centre added: "Scammers use a variety of tactics to win the trust of their victims. They tend to study their victims through what they post online.
"When they finally engage their victims, they will attempt to present themselves as very similar to them."
An alternative persona scammers use is one of an authoritative figure, but "with an element of vulnerability".
"They may play a businessman or a doctor, but he or she may be undergoing divorce or is facing difficulty as a single parent. Victims buy it because it is socially normal to help someone like that."
Victims of Internet love scams are often the worst hit as they don't just lose money, said Mr Chin.
"It is very difficult for victims to move on because it's like losing a loved one. To them, it was a relationship with someone they thought they could spend the rest of their lives with."
In some cases after the scammer leaves, victims are "re-victimised" despite knowing that they were cheated before by the same person.
This is because of the intimate bond that they share, said Mr Chin.
How to avoid getting scammed
A new social media initiative, called #dontbescammed, was launched by the police yesterday to spread awareness about online scams.
The first post on the police's Facebook page shows how the Internet love scam is commonly carried out.
This is part of a targeted communications approach to reveal the methods used in different types of scams.