Beware online love scams, women told

Former victims to front awareness drive, courtesy of Western Union

Women cheated in Internet love scams will front a new campaign to educate others about the dangers of online dating.

Money transfer company Western Union is coming up with the drive as it regularly receives requests from female customers to transfer money overseas to foreign men they met online.

Many of the women realise later that their boyfriends - who have not met them in person - are actually swindlers, and end up losing thousands of dollars.

The company believes it can convince women to be careful about finding love online after listening to painful real-life experiences of other women who were cheated by Internet conmen. It plans to join hands with female advocacy groups to organise events where victims will share their stories either in person or through video recordings.

Pamphlets and posters highlighting their experiences will be distributed and put up at Western Union's 12 outlets in Singapore. The company will work with the media to feature the victims in articles and TV news programmes. It will launch the campaign by the end of the year.

The police have been working with money transfer companies and banks in recent years to stamp out the problem. At Western Union for example, officers conduct talks with staff members on how the conmen work. The police have also cautioned the public not to fall prey to Internet love scams through news articles and TV shows such as Crimewatch.

The number of such cases has fallen. The police told The Straits Times there were 50 Internet love scam victims last year, who were cheated out of $1.2 million. In 2011, there were 62 victims who lost $2.3 million.

Western Union vice-president of compliance Jonathan Tan credited the dip to public education efforts by the police. On average, staff members spot one female customer a month remitting money to a boyfriend overseas she met online. About two years ago, they would encounter one case a week.

The company's 38 customer service staff have been trained to identify customers who may be potential scam victims. Victims tend to look nervous or will be talking on the phone to get instructions while making the transaction.

The staff members will also ask customers questions such as their relationship with the recipient of the cash and will not process the transaction if they find their answers questionable. But Mr Tan said it is getting harder to spot victims as scammers coach them on how to answer the questions.

He said: "Many of the conmen work the same way. By getting the victims to share their stories, we hope that other women will see the similarities in the way the conmen and their so-called boyfriends work to gain their trust and ask them for money."