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OFWs warned against ‘love scams’ as police crack down on predators

05 December 2019

By Daisy CL Mandap

Photo of the package the helper's online boyfriend was supposed to have sent from France

The red flag has again been raised on online love scams as a Filipina domestic worker nearly fell for a man who wooed her on messenger, and tried to make her pay US$800 for a supposed gift package he was sending from France on Nov. 27.

At about the same time, a transnational syndicate that swindled 139 women out of HK$34 million (US$4.34 million) in online romance scams in Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia and Singapore was busted in a joint inter-country police operation.

The syndicate’s victims included 58 women in Hong Kong.  However, this number was just a small fraction of the number of similar cases reported in the city so far this year.
According to the police, 425 reports of online romance scams were reported in the first nine months of 2019 alone, in which swindlers managed to fleece their victims of HK$156.6 million.

The worst case involved a 53-year-old local woman who lost HK$28 million to her internet lover.

A Filipina domestic worker from Quarry Bay was among the lucky ones who wised up in time to avoid sending money to a man who wooed her relentlessly on messenger, then tried to make her pay for a gift package he was supposed to have sent her from France.
Facebook profile of the online lover 

According to the worker’s friend Jhona, the internet lover who used a Facebook account in the name of Stefan Mihai, initiated the chat via messenger. He reportedly wooed the helper non-stop for a week until she got hooked.

 “In short, na inlove agad ang friend ko in just one week. Ang pogi naman din kasi,” Jhona said in her post in the online Facebook group, Domestic Workers Corner.

Not long after, the guy dropped the trap. He said he was sending the helper a package containing all sorts of expensive goodies, and even went to the extent of sending her pictures and videos of the branded items that were supposedly packed inside.
But then came the deal. The swindler said the shipping cost was US$5,800. He said he paid US$5,000 upfront, but the helper as recipient needed to pay the remaining US$800 in line with FedEx regulations.

When the Filipina said she didn’t have that much money, her virtual lover said he put US$10,000 inside the package so she wouldn’t be burdened by the fee requirement.

Jhona said that was when her friend started having doubts, as she knew it was illegal to put cash in mailed packages. She called up FedEx and learned that what “Stefan” had said about her shouldering the rest of the shipping cost was not true.
Probably sensing that she had lost interest, another man with the Facebook profile name Avram Gheorge and who introduced himself as Stefan’s friend initiated a chat with the worker, and urged her to pay the US$800 so she could already claim her package.

When she said she was no longer interested, both men stopped communicating with her.
The sweetener: Supposed airway bill for the package addressed to the Filipina worker

Jhona said she posted the warning, along with photos supplied by her friend, to warn her fellow migrant workers against falling for love scams.

“Mahirap kumita ng dolyar, kaya huwag tayong paloloko sa kanila,” she said in her post.

That warning comes too late for hundreds of women in Hong Kong who have fallen for the scam over the years.

Police records show that last year, the romance peddlers netted HK$450 million from 596 victims. They included a 66-year-old businesswoman who was conned by an “engineer from Britain” out of HK$180 million, the biggest amount lost in the scam.

But the longest-running scam involved a finance manager who lost HK$14million over eight years to a con artist who posed as a British film director. In all those years, the victim never met her online boyfriend in person. – with a report from SCMP
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