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Romance fraud: Unmasking love scams in the cyber space

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Stanley Hsu

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3 months ago

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In 2023, a staggering $108.8 million was lost in Singapore due to investment scams alone, with 1,683 cases reported according to police’s midyear statistics. Similarly, Malaysia saw 98,607 cases of online cryptocurrency fraud between 2017 and 2021, totalling RM3.3 billion. 

Cybercriminals are smart, and they prey on topics that draw a strong reaction such as sports, politics, social issues, and romance. In Thailand, a recent crackdown on romance cryptocurrency scam was exposed, seizing a total of $277 million in assets.

These alarming figures highlight the growing threat of romance scams in Southeast Asia. 

One of the most prevalent tactics is the ‘pig butchering’ method, where criminals lure potential victims into digital relationships, building trust whilst convincing them to invest in bogus Cryptocurrency investments. The scammer would then manipulate the numbers to allow the victim to earn profits, cultivating the relationship and inviting them to invest further into the scheme before scamming the majority of their investments. This method is particularly effective as it exploits the emotional vulnerability of the victims, making them more susceptible to manipulation.

As employees are increasingly using corporate-owned devices for personal use, organisations need to remain aware and guarded against such crypto-romance schemes. This exposes the company to higher risks of cyber threats such as phishing scams, identity theft, and malware attacks.

Recognising the Red Flags

Scammers may send unexpected friend requests via social media, profess their love shortly after making contact with you to gain your interest and trust with loving words and offers. Yet, they often refuse video calls as this would reveal their identities. 

Victims can come from all walks of life, including those that may be highly educated. Psychologist Carolyn Misir points out: “Showered with such deliberate attention, it’s not inconceivable that victims fall for someone they have never met. “It doesn’t matter who you are and what your background is, as long as the scammer is using the correct technique with you… technically, anyone can be persuaded.”

Preventative Measures Against Romance Fraud

If you suspect you may be scammed, take a step back from the situation and independently verify what this person is telling you. Consider the dialogue you’ve had – are there many requests, does the communication seem unnatural? It’s unnatural to ask someone you’ve never met in-person or virtually on video for money – and it’s very unnatural to ask someone to send you money via a Bitcoin ATM or something similar that is untracked, like an official bank wire transfer. Although it may be hard sometimes, it’s important to review from the situation with an unbiased eye and remember to never initiate an untracked money transfer. 

Once suspicion is raised, take swift and decisive action to mitigate its impact by severing all ties with the perpetrator. Change your passwords, and if you have been involved in monetary transactions with the scammers, contact your bank immediately, so that your bank can take appropriate measures to protect your accounts and assets from further compromise.

Report signs of suspicious behaviour so that the authorities or the platform where you encountered the scammer can take action against scammers wherever possible. In doing so, you can help prevent others from falling victim to similar ploys.

Finally, seek support from friends, family, or mental health professionals. Being love scammed can be emotionally traumatic, and it is important to have a support system in place to help you process your feelings and cope with the emotional fallout from a love scam.

With love scams becoming increasingly common, protect yourself from future scams by investing in tools to help you identify them, such as recognising common red flags and enrolling in a security awareness training & user behaviour course to boost your knowledge of internet scams and cybersecurity best practices. This can go a long way in navigating the digital landscape to protect both your heart and wallet alike.

As we navigate this new landscape, it’s crucial to stay informed and vigilant. Awareness and education are our best defence against these scams. Remember, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Stay safe in the cyber space.

This article is written by Stanley Hsu, Regional Vice-President of Asia, Mimecast

The insight is published as part of UPTECH MEDIA’s thought leadership piece, written within its repository of contributor articles. 

UPTECH MEDIA welcomes partner article contributions about the latest technology trends in the Asia-Pacific region. For inquiries and submissions, please send them to ed*******@up**********.com.

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