Police task force helps reduce online love scams

Ms Rosie (not her real name), 70, at a police press conference yesterday. She described how a man she met on Facebook had cheated her of $8,000. She nearly became a money mule too, but was warned in time by an officer from the Commercial Affairs Depa
Ms Rosie (not her real name), 70, at a police press conference yesterday. She described how a man she met on Facebook had cheated her of $8,000. She nearly became a money mule too, but was warned in time by an officer from the Commercial Affairs Department.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Efforts include freezing accounts of scam beneficiaries; number of such cases down by more than 50% since Sept

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 arrest 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.

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    Number of investigators in the online scam task force from next month, double the current six investigators.

"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 be doubled 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.

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, and he told her that he admired her work as an artist and would like to know her better.

 

They soon started exchanging messages about twice a week. They 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.

She did not ever meet the man in person, but 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.

"I'm a very soft-hearted woman. I could not bear the sight of the child in hospital," said Ms Rosie, referring to pictures of a child plugged into medical equipment the man had sent her.

She had 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 it 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.

The man harassed Ms Rosie for a few days after he found out that the police had seized the $9,000.

She blocked his numbers, but her nightmare ended only last month, when he stopped harassing her.

Ms Rosie, who has a son and two granddaughters, is thankful her family has forgiven her for her mistake.

She said:"I'm of course angry that I got cheated. But I always pray, if he is truly a cheat, may he be punished."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2018, with the headline 'Police task force helps reduce online love scams'. Print Edition | Subscribe