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FDHs fall prey to bitcoin and ATM scams

18 January 2021

By Daisy CL Mandap

Click baits such as this are all over Facebook

Do you want a parttime job?

This was the question that hooked Filipina domestic worker Lani (not her real name), and nearly landed her in jail.

Lani, a widow with a child and a sickly mother, said she was enticed to take up the offer which she saw in a Facebook post early last year because there were many others who expressed interest in it.

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So ako po komo nakita ko na madaming Pinay na interesado, nag ‘how?’ ako. Doon na nag start,” Lani said. (Since I saw a lot of Filipinas who were interested, I asked ‘how.’ That was how it started).

Lani said the man who only went by the name “Parttime” merely asked her if she had a bank account because that was where her income from the parttime work would be paid.

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Soon after, the man transferred $8,000 to Lani’s account and told her to use it to buy bitcoin for him. She was to be paid $200 each time she did this.

Lani, who until then did not even have an inkling as to what a bitcoin – a digital currency that can be used to buy other currencies, products and services – was, was directed to go to a bitcoin ATM near the Mong Kok MTR station and do the transactions there.


Ang dami din pong mga Pilipina doon na bumibili. Parttime daw po nila, kaya ako po, isip ko legal ito. Minsan may tatawag pa sa akin na nag-aalok ng bitcoin.”

(There were a lot of Filipinas there who were also buying bitcoin. They said it was their parttime work, so I thought, it must be legal. Once in a while, I’d even get a call from someone offering me bitcoin).

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She said that each time she went there, she had to line up because even amid the pandemic, many people, including Filipinas, were there to buy the cryptocurrency.

Nakakalula yung mga halaga ng dine deposit sa kanila,” Lani recalls. “Nung minsan may nakasabay ako, $15,000. Sabi pa ni ate sa akin, mababa pa daw yun, kaya inisip ko legal.”


(The amount transferred to their accounts was mind-blowing. Once, I was there with someone who had $15,000. She said it was actually not that much, so I thought it was all legal).

Lani says many Filipina DHs line up at bitcoin ATMs such as this for their 'parttime work'

Lani said she bought bitcoin for the man four times, each time after a deposit was made into her bank account. After the first $8,000, the man transferred $10,000 next. The third time, she said she couldn’t remember if it was $11,000 or $12,000, and for the fourth and last time, $4,000.

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She stopped doing the unknown man’s bidding after that because in April last year, Hang Seng Bank called her to say there had been a “mis-transfer” of $4,000 into her account. Lani replied that she had already used the money to buy bitcoin, and the bank officer sort of hinted she had done something wrong.

Panicked, Lani called up her handler for the first time, and was surprised to realize that the man was not a local as she had thought, as his English was impeccable and he did not have any accent at all.


The man reportedly assured her that it was all a misunderstanding, and that he’d settle the matter. But Lani had gotten spooked enough and said she wanted to quit. The man told her to tear up the SIM card that she had been using to call him, and she did.

Lani thought no more of that incident until police came knocking on her employer’s home on Dec. 27 last year to say she was being arrested for deception. Lani was taken to the Central Police Station where she said she was strip-searched and interrogated.


It turned out the person who transferred $4,000 into her account had complained of having been scammed by someone who offered a Samsung S20 phone to him in exchange for that money. The buyer was told to transfer the money to Lani’s account, and when he did not get the phone, he complained to the bank and the authorities.

At the police station, Lani’s male employer came with a private lawyer who instructed her not to make any statement. Despite this, Lani still had to go through the process of being photographed, fingerprinted and asked a lot of questions.

Tunghayan ang isa na namang kwentong Dream Love

Eventually, she was released on police bail, and told to report back this Jan 23. She remains terrified of that experience until now.

Lani’s woes do not end here. She has been told by her employer of 29 months that she needs to pay back $25,000 – the money they claimed to have paid the lawyer who watched over her while she was in police custody.

To drive home this point, her employer deducted $500 from her latest pay.

Told that she cannot be made to pay for something she did not ask for, or that the maximum amount that can be deducted from her monthly salary is only $300, Lani dares not raise issue with her employers over this. She has been through a lot lately, and all because she wanted to earn a little money on the side.

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