I nearly got scammed by not one, but four, love scammers on dating apps

Relate & Date: Two Singaporean women recount their ordeals with love scammers while navigating the world of online dating

Wooden blocks spell out
Wooden blocks spell out "fake love" on a crossword puzzle (left) and a man holds a white mask in his hand behind his back (right) depict internet love scams. (Photo: Getty Images)

When Mavis*, a 45-year-old gig worker from Singapore, initially crossed paths with “Frank” on Tinder, she believed she’d struck gold. Smart, handsome and successful, Frank appeared to be the complete package – except for one important part. Originally hailing from Romania, Frank resided in Europe, limiting their conversations to texts and voice messages.

However, Mavis was charmed by Frank's consistent thoughtfulness, as he never failed to wish her good morning and goodnight, all the while checking in on her throughout the day. A few weeks after they first matched on Tinder, Frank even said he would be sending her a gift.

Shortly after this promising message, Mavis received a strange email claiming that she had a package from Frank, but it was “stuck in Malaysia customs”, and she had to pay a hefty fine for its release.

Scammer trying to cheat victim's money
After sweet-talking their intended victims, scammers will try to cheat them of their money. (Photo: Getty Images)

“My suspicions were immediately roused firstly because I couldn’t believe how high the fine was – it was in the tens of thousands of ringgit,” Mavis recalls.

“More importantly, the email address was not even legit; it was from a weird email address trying to pass off as Malaysian customs.”

Her suspicions were confirmed when Frank started pressuring her to pay the fine.

“He was texting me incessantly, telling me that if I didn’t pay the fine I would not be able to receive the gift that he’d specially bought me,” Mavis shares.

“When I didn’t respond to his calls and texts, his messages started to get abusive – calling me stupid and so on.”

Mavis went to the police, who confirmed that it was a scam and advised her to ignore Frank’s messages, which she did.

“I blocked his number and reported his account to Tinder,” Mavis says. “I felt really betrayed and alarmed [that such a thing could happen], but it did not put me off online dating.”

A fertile ground for scammers?

Close-up of a male holding a smart phone, and browsing a dating application, looking at a photo of a woman.
If your dating app match gives too many excuses to put a face to the name, you could be dealing with a scammer. (Photo: Getty Images)

Unfortunately, that was not the only time Mavis encountered a scammer on a dating app. She recounts matching with three different guys on Tinder and Bumble, who gave her a variety of excuses not to meet in person or even have video calls.

“There was this person who claimed he couldn’t do video or voice calls because he worked and lived on a ship,” Mavis shares.

“When I decided to cut it off, he immediately tried to call me and I recognised the accent as being Southeast Asian instead of American, as he had initially asserted.”

“Another guy told me it was difficult to meet as he’d just moved from South Korea to Singapore. When I suggested meeting for a quick coffee in the CBD, which is where he works, he then claimed his office was in the midst of shifting locations,” Mavis recounts.

“There were just too many dodgy excuses so I quickly shut that down.”

The dark side of digital romance

Love scam and romance fraud with messages. Online chat catfish with fake identity. Infidelity, cheating husband with secret relationship. Fraudster, swindler, scammer or cheater with laptop computer.
Fraudsters create fake profiles on dating apps and services, often stealing pictures and identities to appear genuine. (Photo: Getty Images)

While dating apps and services have revolutionised how people connect and socialise, they have also become fertile ground for scammers preying on vulnerable hearts. These fraudsters create fake profiles, often stealing pictures and identities to appear genuine. They lure unsuspecting individuals with sweet words and promises of genuine connection, only to exploit their emotions and finances.

Mavis is far from the only victim of online romance fraud. Tabitha*, a 36-year-old tech consultant in Singapore, also recently found herself entangled with a scammer she matched with on Coffee Meets Bagel.

Jia Wei* was a Malaysian who frequently travelled between Malaysia and Singapore for work. He also told Tabitha that he preferred dating someone who speaks Mandarin as his mum speaks mainly that.

“I don’t usually speak Mandarin but I thought it was a good opportunity to practise my mother tongue,” Tabitha recalls.

“In our daily conversations, he shared glimpses of his daily life and expressed his commitment to settling down. We even spoke on the phone every night for about a week.”

However, Tabitha started to get suspicious when her match started name-dropping prominent and affluent individuals in Singapore, along with plans to establish a restaurant business in the city-state.

It’s quite disheartening to see how well they are able to play on people’s emotions.

“I would try to test him by asking him to send me a picture of his flight ticket but he couldn’t produce it,” she shares.

“I started researching more on scam tactics and realised that the things he was saying to me was very similar to what other people out there had experienced,” Tabitha says.

“For example, he would talk about setting up a restaurant together so that we could be business partners (and more), which was very similar to the ‘scam scripts’ I saw online. I tried probing him more, and our messages ended abruptly.”

Even though they’d stopped chatting, Tabitha, on a whim, initiated a reverse Google image search on some of the pictures that Jia Wei sent her. There search yielded no results, but a subsequent search on Baidu found the exact same two pictures he’d sent her, cribbed from someone else’s account.

“It was both satisfying to confirm that I was right [about him being a scammer] but disappointing all the same,” Tabitha muses.

She believes that Jia Wei was playing the long game where after gaining the other person’s trust, he would then start asking for “investments” for the “restaurant” he purportedly planned to establish.

While she was relieved she’d dodged a financial bullet, Tabitha admits this experience left her rather cynical about online dating.

“It’s quite disheartening to see how well they are able to play on people’s emotions,” Tabitha laments.

“I’m usually quite sceptical when I start chatting with someone new but I was almost fooled by him because of how well he drew me in with personal stories and photos from his life.”

Heart in a trap. Love is like bait. Hit the trick.
Swift action is needed if you fall victim to a love scam. (Photo: Getty Images)

What to do if you fall victim to a love scam

If, despite your precautions, you find yourself ensnared in a dating scam, swift action is crucial. Here’s what you need to do:

1. Cease all communication

Cut off all contact with the scammer immediately. Do not respond to their messages or emails.

2. Report the incident

Contact the dating app administrators and report the scam. They can take measures to remove the scammer's profile and prevent them from victimising others.

3. Inform the authorities

Report the incident to the police. Provide them with all the relevant information and evidence you have gathered.

4. Seek support

Reach out to trusted friends and family members or a professional counsellor. Talking about your experience can help you cope with the emotional distress resulting from the scam.

As much as we want to be open-hearted in our search for love, vigilance is still key to navigating the world of online dating. By being aware of the signs, exercising caution, and arming oneself with knowledge, one can move through the world of online dating safely. Remember, love should uplift and inspire, not leave you in despair.

Check out more relationship stories here.

(*Names have been changed and details have been modified upon request.)

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