Number of love scams reported in 2017 hits a high of 349; one woman lost $1 million in just 4 months

Don’t believe everything you see and everyone you meet on the internet. Some people are just out to scam you, like in the case of one woman who lost about $1 million in four months to a love scam. Hers is just one of the 349 love scams reported in the first half of 2017 — according to crime stats from the police, this is a pretty big jump from 277 over the same period last year.

Grace (not her real name) had made the trip to Malaysia about 10 times in the four months, traveling with cash in the hopes that she could set free a “close friend” who was supposedly detained as a suspect of money laundering.

She ended up spending $1.1 million on “certificates” that were allegedly issued by the United Nations, in order to prove her 52-year-old Canadian businessman friend was innocent. But the money was insufficient to prevent him from being “deported” — or so she thought.

The man, named Lee, had pointed her to an online banking website as evidence of his finances. Eventually, the 45-year-old businesswoman realized her money was gone for good when the fake webpage could not be accessed anymore after the scam was over.

Number of love scams reported in 2017 hits a high of 349; one woman lost $1 million in just 4 months

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Grace reported the case to the police this June, nine months after she first met Lee. The divorcee told The Straits Times that she had met Lee through a friend last September, and their connection grew stronger over Facebook and meet-ups for meals and drinks. Lee reportedly said he wanted to migrate to Singapore, and had asked her how she ended up living in the country as a permanent resident for over a decade.

Six months later, their relationship started to revolve around the topic of money.

Earlier this year, Lee called Grace, asking for help at a Malaysian airport. He claimed to have been caught with USD2 million (SGD2.7 million) in cash — money that he said he was going to use to buy a home in Singapore.

Grace ended up speaking to a “customs officer” and, later on, a “UN worker”, who said the Malaysian Customs was demanding USD250,000 for Lee’s release. Initially reluctant, Grace eventually flew to Kuala Lumpur in February, and the alleged UN worker brought her to a conference room in a building to show her Lee’s luggage filled with USD100 bills wrapped in plastic.

After inspecting the notes, Grace changed her mind and began to believe the case was an actual, serious one. To help Lee, she supposedly had to obtain two certificates from the UN as evidence that he was not money laundering but was carrying real money. So Lee gave Grace his Canadian bank details and got her to make payments with his funds from the account.

She was unable to withdraw money from his account, but she could transfer the funds to a shipping company that he “had to pay” for other reasons.

Eventually, Grace found herself making the trip to Johor Baru and Kuala Lumpur every few weeks armed with cash. The money was given to the “UN worker”, who started to call her regularly, in exchange for the certificates. Finally, in May, Grace was asked to fork out another USD150,000 or risk Lee being deported back to Canada.

But she refused, as she no longer had the finances to help.

It was only after Lee was “deported” that Grace discovered the banking site she had been given was actually a duplicate of a real bank in Canada. The domain name had only been purchased in January.

She did not try to contact Lee or his accomplice after the incident.

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