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News, Crime

Jalelah Abu Baker
Friday, Apr 11, 2014

News, Crime

Hearts broken, cash taken by 'Americans'

Jalelah Abu Baker | Friday, Apr 11, 2014

SINGAPORE - As the number of Singaporeans falling prey to online Romeos rises, a new trend has surfaced: More of these conmen are claiming to be American.

Police said in February that many of the love scam cases they see here tend to involve conmen posing as Britons.

But the Embassy of the United States here has seen a sudden spike in cases of Singaporeans being scammed of their money by people claiming to be Americans who they met online.

In the cases reported to the embassy, the documents the scammers sent to the potential victims did not appear to be genuinely American.

This comes as the number of online love scams here has gone up. There were 81 cases last year, a 62 per cent increase from the year before, according to the latest figures from the police.

And victims are giving even more. The amount transferred has increased five-fold, from $1.18 million to $5.8 million.

Ms Eveline Tseng and Ms Yang Madsen, vice-consuls at the American Embassy here, said that in just two months, they have received six complaints of possible love scams. They usually get such cases once a month on average.

"This could be just the tip of the iceberg. There are other women who may chalk it up to bad luck, or a lesson learnt," Ms Madsen said.

Ms Tseng said that the scammers are becoming more sophisticated, with some even altering the dates on their photographs on social media to make them seem current to all their targets.

She did not want to speculate on why the modus operandi had changed or why posing as an American was catching on.

In one case, a woman first transferred $6,000 to an "American" man she met online, and then received a call from someone else claiming that the man had been detained at the border while trying to enter Singapore to visit her.

The caller asked for another $46,000. She did not give him the money.

The police said that a common ruse is one where the man claims he is being detained at another country's Customs for carrying excess cash, just before travelling to meet the woman to talk about marriage.

Or he may have promised parcels of branded watches and bags, and that the victim would have to pay for a mysterious "penalty charge" on them.

For these reasons and more, the women transfer money to them, sometimes repeatedly. The highest single amount transferred last year was $1 million.

The men pick up these women on online dating sites or social networks, and get to know them for months to build their trust before convincing them to transfer money.

Age is not a barrier in these cases. Those who were scammed last year were aged between 19 and 74.

The police said that one of the possible reasons behind the rise in online love scams is the overall increased usage of the Internet.

"The increase in the number of Internet users may have attracted more criminal elements online," a spokesman said.

Those who buy items online have also been targeted, and are increasingly falling prey.

Cheating involving e-commerce more than doubled from 238 cases in 2012 to 509 last year.

The police advised the public to check the track record of a seller or company before making a purchase.

jalmsab@sph.com.sg


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