Why are so many Hong Kong women still falling for online romance scams?
International fraudsters continue to fleece lonely hearts in the city through dating scams, and the numbers are surging despite public awareness
Why are Hong Kong’s lonely hearts, especially single women looking for love online, such easy pickings for romance scammers?
I would assume that every adult in this city is surely aware of these rackets that have been breaking hearts and draining bank accounts for decades, and yet the steady supply of victims is actually surging.
They keep falling for dirty, rotten scoundrels who strike up romantic liaisons with them over the internet and ultimately persuade them to part with their money on the pretext of some financial emergency.
In the latest example, local and Malaysian police this week busted a Kuala Lumpur-based syndicate accused of cheating 48 Hong Kong women – and one elderly man who thought he was romancing an American woman – out of HK$29.5 million.
One victim, a senior executive at a local company, lost a whopping HK$6 million to a con artist pretending to be a British engineer whom she met on a dating platform online.
Turns out they were all duped by a bunch of Nigerian fraudsters churning out love letters from a flat in the Malaysian capital.
In fact, more than 140 people have been similarly deceived to the tune of HK$78 million in the first nine months of this year – nearly 100 per cent up over the same period last year.
“A fool and his money are soon parted,” you might say, but those who dismiss the victims as gullible airheads who deserve it may want to note that many of them are educated and informed professionals such as doctors, lawyers and teachers.
Professional matchmaker Ariadna Peretz of Maitre D’ate has a simple explanation pertaining to inherent human nature: “We never think it will happen to us. Love/infatuation is such a strong drug. Once the scammer gets us hooked it is hard to think straight.”
Another dating coach, Valentina Tudose of Happy Ever After, has explored the impact on victims of such scams, mostly characterised by trauma, shame, and low self-esteem.
“Being a victim of a dating scam can make someone hyper-vigilant and mistrusting of any human interaction which can ruin their chances of ever being in a relationship again,” she says.
Tudose attributes the victims’ vulnerability to a combination of desperation and age – the familiar “leftover women” syndrome.
“I encounter this so often with my clients – it gets much worse after 40. Because they believe there is no chance for them to find love any other way, they are even willing to pay someone if it means they may finally find a partner,” she says.
“This problem/perception that after a certain age you are doomed to being single forever is something I am very passionate about changing because it is a very damaging belief.”
Both matchmakers have similar advice for lonely hearts:
● Listen to your gut feeling – if it sounds too good to be true, it is.
● Do not project yourself as insecure or inexperienced online.
● A real life meeting is a must before you commit yourself; insist on video chats as well.
● Stalk your lover online for proof that he is who he claims to be.
● Never send money to someone you have not met in person.
Sounds like basic common sense to me. I’d add that people just need to get out more for some good old-fashioned human contact instead of conducting their entire lives in cyberspace.
“Online dating is turning us into commodities and giving scammers too much access to vulnerable people,” Peretz says.
Weaning people off the internet for human interaction is easier said than done, though. They prefer to project idealised avatars of themselves online, Photoshopped to please.
In that sense, ironically, deception is a two-way street.
Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post