Advisory posters from the Singapore Police Force on scams.

Singaporeans lost S$660.7 million to scams in 2022, marking an increase from $632 million in 2021, according to the Singapore Police Force.

The police have reported that more than 53% of scam victims were aged between 20 and 39, which is contrary to popular belief.

While phishing scams were the most common in 2022, with 7,097 cases, love scams were also prevalent, with 1,152 cases reported. In fact, there is an evident rise in online dating scams, and the number of love scams is expected to increase with more people signing up for online dating sites.

Two of the 13 scam syndicates busted in 2022 were linked to internet love scams. Victims of love scams lost a total of S$33.3 million, with an average loss of $28,945 per victim.

Love scammers establish an online relationship with the victim, gain their trust and affection, and then request money. Some even promise marriage in exchange for the victim’s financial assistance.

The nature of love scams is such that victims may be too emotionally invested in the relationship to spot the warning signs.

Online dating scams generally involve a criminal adopting a fake identity on a dating platform and feigning interest in their victims to con them, also known as “catfishing.”

After earning their victim’s trust, the scammer either asks for financial help or requests intimate photos of the victim that can later be used to blackmail them.

The police have advised victims of love scams to file a report immediately if they lose money or personal information.

The Netflix documentary, “The Tinder Swindler,” highlights the sophistication of love scams, as victims found themselves heavily in debt after falling for Simon Leviev’s scam. Leviev’s victims were intelligent, independent, and tech-savvy women, initially cautious but wooed by extravagant overseas trips, expensive dinners, and lavish parties.

In October 2022, a report by Channel News Asia (CNA) featured the experiences of a few individuals who were scammed by fake profiles on social media.

One victim, Kelly, a financial consultant, lost S$15,000 (US$11,070) after being scammed by someone she met on Instagram. The scammer had convinced her to try out a new platform, which appeared to provide similar profits to her other legitimate investments.

Kelly initially earned a profit, and this gave her confidence in the platform. However, after investing more money and trying to withdraw it, the scammer asked for another top-up, and Kelly realized she had been scammed.

Another victim, Kayla, lost S$50,000 (US$37,000) to “Linus,” who had asked her for money after convincing her to start a relationship with him. After she cut off contact with Linus, someone threatened to forward the intimate photos and videos of her to her friends.

There are warning signs to look out for when using dating apps, such as scammers moving quickly from the app to communicate directly via text, WhatsApp, or email and over-the-top displays of affection and attention (love-bombing).

Additionally, scammers may use a pet name for the victim to avoid using the wrong name, avoid meeting in real life, and ask for personal information such as passport details.

Richard Bromley, the fraud risk manager at Revolut, warns that requests for money in love scams are often highly emotive. In recent trends, scammers convince victims to invest significant funds on fraudulent investment platforms, promising they will “build a life together.”

The CNA report also offered advice on how to spot fake profiles and sites, including looking out for spelling and grammatical errors, particularly in the ticker or the site’s terms of service.

The existence of a 24-hour online customer service to communicate with customers needing to make a deposit or withdrawal is also a red flag, as well as the age of the site’s domain registration.

Victims of love scams often suffer from severe emotional trauma in addition to financial losses.

The police have urged victims to seek help from a trusted friend or family member and to approach professional counselling services if needed.

Love scams can have a devastating impact on victims, and it is crucial to remain vigilant when using online dating sites and platforms.

Mr Bromley has advised the public to be cautious when using dating apps and to protect their hearts and finances. “If the relationship quickly develops towards financial support and independence, save it for someone better,” he said.

The rise of love scams in Singapore highlights the need for continued vigilance and caution when using online dating sites and platforms.

By being aware of the warning signs and taking appropriate action when suspicious activity is detected, individuals can protect themselves from falling victim to these scams.

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