Online love traps: S'poreans may be more aware of them, but can they avoid falling for them?

While internet love scams fell 20.7 per cent last year, experts warn Singaporeans not to take any chances and remain vigilant

In an interview with Yahoo News Singapore, Lisa shared a screenshot of a conversation she had with the scammer who tried to get her to join bitcoin.
In an interview with Yahoo News Singapore, Lisa shared a screenshot of a conversation she had with the scammer who tried to get her to join bitcoin. (PHOTO: Screenshot/Lisa)

SINGAPORE – Two years ago, Lisa (not her real name) was using Tinder to find love, until she encountered a match that seemed too good to be true.

The 33-year-old said, "He was a smooth-talker, very well-off financially, and had a decent job. Finding this type of person online was like finding a dream match."

Despite being enamoured with his charming ways, Lisa soon became increasingly suspicious of the man as soon as he took an interest in her finances - from her job situation to her income.

Her gut instinct proved true when he insisted on introducing her to a "fast approach" to get more money, despite her insistence that she had no interest in any form of investment or cryptocurrency.

"Despite knowing I wasn't interested in investing, he was very clever. His strategy changed, and he attempted to convince me to play an online game under the pretext that we would be able to bond through it. The game, however required topping-up of hundreds of dollars," Lisa recalled.

While the man asked her to invest $10 in the game and gave her $50 in return to prove that it was a real game, Lisa knew it was a trap when he eventually asked for an amount that, as she told Yahoo News Singapore, "was uncomfortable for her to invest".

Lisa, who is in the marketing field, said, "I knew this was some love scam because I read on news and forums about how they use romance to try to get you to invest money."

"Once these red flags were spotted, I stopped responding to the scammers. I was certain they meant me harm," she added.

No end to online love scams

Young people in their early 30s and below, like Lisa, are increasingly cautious and not falling for internet love scams like they did in previous years.

In 2022, the number of internet love scam cases fell by 20.7 per cent to 868 from 1,094 the previous year, according to the Singapore Police Force (SPF) last Wednesday (8 February).

However, Anthony Lim, cybersecurity expert and advocate at the ISC2 Singapore Chapter, said that this does not mean the one should not let his guard down, as love scams are seasonal and will likely emerge again, such as during this Valentine's Day period.

Scammers usually exploit traits such as greed and impatience, according to Lim.

"They know that the economy is bad, times are challenging, and people work hard for a living. Nobody would say no to money that is easy and fast, and the scammers prey on that."

In particular, he explained that younger Singaporeans would remain a target because scammers know they want instant gratification.

"It's like when a website takes too long to load. The younger ones won't want to wait," Lim explained.

"Similarly, that's why many scams have to do with instances where the offer would be urgent, such as it will only last until two hours, so you better decide within that period."

Recognising the patterns of a potential love scammer

Lim said there is always a "confidence trickster" - a scammer skilled at establishing confidence in many such scams, which frequently happen on social media or online dating applications.

"These scammers know that if they ask you to invest $50 and bring back at least $20 to you, the victim will keep returning to get returns, until one day the scammers ask you to invest a bigger sum, and then they disappear," he said.

Lim also urged others to be sceptical, verify details and not to be in a hurry to accept anything.

"The bottom line is not to be impatient, be cautious, and I think the best is to be doubtful. Even if you want to make a million dollars about bitcoin, go read up about bitcoin and learn about it first. The key is to verify and be certain," he added.

A person texting the words I Love You. Romance Love Scam concept
"It's important to be sceptical and to verify facts before agreeing to invest in a platform", according to cybersecurity expert, Anthony Lim.

Overcoming the grief and trauma of being scammed

In addition to potentially losing thousands or even millions of dollars due to an internet love scam, one thing that shouldn't be taken for granted is the emotional trauma that may last a lifetime and lead to upsetting memories and anxiety.

Dr Annabelle Chow, a principal clinical psychologist at Annabelle Psychology, said grief could be especially grave for those who feel lonely and empty, and have few friends or family members close to them.

"So when someone is kind to them, they are more likely to buy into the scam, but that also means that in the treatment, grief is very intense because they do not have social support to go on," she said.

Despite victims' efforts to confide in family members, she observed that they do not often receive the support they need. In fact, they might make wrong assumptions about the victims, such as asking why they fell victim to the scam even when they are highly educated.

"When the victims tell the family members, they might get blamed instead. More often than not, family members would blame them and say they are stupid," Dr Chow said.

"When combined with the complexity of the blame from family members, there is a very deep feeling of shame, and that will further lead them to think they are unlovable and nobody cares about them. In turn, this could lead to them being suicidal or choosing to self-harm."

When dealing with trauma, Varian Monteiro, a counselling therapist at the Relational Counselling Studio, advises taking the first step and seeking assistance.

This can be achieved through talk therapy, which is counselling.

In his opinion, the most critical thing is to seek out a counsellor trained in trauma treatment who knows where to go so that one can restore some balance to their thinking that might have been affected by trauma.

Even then, it still depends on each person how long they can recover from the trauma.

"It can be anywhere from a year to four years, because of how disastrous or devastating the effects can be; it's tough on them," he said.

The emotional trauma from internet love scams may last a lifetime and lead to upsetting memories and anxiety, according to experts.
The emotional trauma from internet love scams may last a lifetime and lead to upsetting memories and anxiety, according to experts. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

If you have thoughts of suicide or are feeling distressed, you can call the Samaritans of Singapore's 24-hour hotline at 1767 or 1800-2214444. You can also email

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