Commentary: How love scammers cheat on women
I was with two friends, Christine and Beverly, recently when Christine got a notification on Facebook from a guy who claimed to know Beverly. But Beverly didn’t know the guy, and we concluded Christine was being tricked by someone using a fake persona.
The incident brought us to a recent romance scam case where two Malaysia-based Nigerians involved in a global romance scam syndicate were jailed in Singapore.
Cybercrime is on the rise, and although the focus is now on phishing scams involving banks, it is worth noting that internet romance scams are among the top 10 scams in Singapore. In 2021, 568 cases were reported, an increase of 223 cases compared to 2020.
The vast majority of victims are women.
Police previously said nearly nine in 10 victims are single, married or divorced women between the ages of 30 and 59 in occupations ranging from housewives and cleaners to executives and managers.
Why do love scammers succeed and what can we do to avoid falling victim to them?
Love scammers usually have three stages in their playbook.
Shaping an identity is the first step.
Fraudsters such as the two convicted Nigerians use a network of online accounts – Facebook, LinkedIn, dating sites and so on – to pose as decent or even handsome romantic men looking for love and romance. a genuine relationship.
Often the scammers are nowhere to be found once the victims realize they have been duped.
What is unusual and difficult to explain is the profile of the victims of such scams. Despite active prevention and awareness messages from the Singapore police, women still fall prey to such fraud. They include what we would call smart, educated people.
My friend Christine could have been a victim.
The scammer tried to get to know her by sharing something familiar – in this case, a mutual friend. The scammer was trying to “groom” her, gain her trust before concocting a story to get her money.
Grooming – establishing a bond with a person to perpetrate a crime against them – is the second stage of romance scams.
Imposters typically tend to the victim for months, often appealing to the victim’s lifestyle or circumstances.
After being groomed by a ‘suitor’ who sends her Bible verses daily and ‘prays with her’ daily, a Christian friend in Malaysia was scammed out of around S$10,000.
The guy courted her online for three months and even arranged for her to speak to her “mother” in the US to prove the seriousness of their relationship.
He sent her his electronic plane ticket, allegedly planning to fly over to meet in person. Following this, he claimed to have shipped items to her, but asked her to transfer money for customs clearance, which resulted in more “customs inquiries”. After a few transfers, he was unreachable.
So even well-educated professionals get scammed for being too human, feeling lonely, and letting their guard down after being treated for a while. Attracting attention is flattering and regular communication creates bonds.
Some scammers send freebies, and in doing so, the victim feels pressured to reciprocate, resulting in the sharing of personal data. Some victims may even be tricked into sharing compromising photos or videos of themselves. And this is the third stage or the ultimate goal of the fraudsters – “the scam”, either to swindle the victims out of their money or their flesh.
Typical victim profiles
Studies of victim typology highlight characteristics such as being cooperative, carefree, susceptible to flattery, easily intimidated, risk-taking, generous, solitary, and nonjudgmental.
Scammers know this and find many creative ways to convince unsuspecting victims. They play with the psyche of their prey.
The very nature of online platforms, which give users the ability to review and reread conversations, makes it easier for criminals to perpetuate lies.
This feature creates the illusion of a perfect partner. A relationship formed primarily through electronic communication can ironically be more personal than a face-to-face relationship. Also known as a hyperpersonal relationship, the absence of nonverbal cues makes it harder to spot cheating or a lack of commitment.
In such relationships, victims experience a greater sense of intimacy. They are likely to visualize romance and even if they are dubious, they tend to overattribute the characteristics of the scammer.
For imposters, engaging in hyperpersonal relationships allows them to carefully craft their responses based on the victims. Victims may not realize that they are prepared and therefore do not see through unreal conversations.
Overconfidence can also make individuals more vulnerable to scams, and it may well be that well-educated people are more confident in their judgment or rather misjudge the character of the fraudster.
Love has a huge effect on people. You don’t need a real romantic relationship to be in love. The concept of love is in the mind.
For example, a person may experience love while reading a romantic novel, watching a movie, or chatting with family and friends.
There are three notions about love that apply in the context of women and romance scams.
First, some people believe in romantic destiny and idealize their partners. They tend to focus on the positives and forget the negatives in their new romance.
Second, being alone and lonely, especially during the holiday season, makes one crave attention. This is when most scammers strike.
Going online from the comfort of her home and chatting with a stranger can sometimes make a woman feel safe and comfortable. Scammers know this and capitalize on this safe space to gain trust.
With the Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day approaching, be especially wary of unsolicited messages from strangers.
Third, some people are thrill seekers and enjoy the feeling of trying something new or unusual. Some women are willing to take risks when it comes to dating.
So what can women do?
Don’t share too much information on social media – that’s where scammers get information about you, understand you better and target you.
Cross-check and verify by talking to someone you trust, before trusting the stranger. Be careful if your friends or family say they are concerned about your new love.
Never send money or gifts to anyone you haven’t met in person.
If you suspect a romance scam, immediately stop communicating with the person.
Research the person and their work online. You can also search for “oil rig scammer” or “US military scammer” or read blog posts about romance scams.
It’s already hard for many women to find love, and love scam stories don’t make it any easier. Hopefully the latest case has a deterrent effect and with greater awareness the romance scam syndicate can be stopped from preying on women looking for love.
About the authors:
Dr. Razwana Begum is Head of Public Safety and Minor in Military Studies program at the School of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences, Singapore University of Social Sciences. Valerie Ng is an associate faculty member at the same university and a corporate communication practitioner.