Finally I have some time off to write the juicy details of the most distracting events that happened to me last month. Romance scams! Not only once, but twice in a month! Oh boy!
First let’s discuss the first one. I met this guy on planet romeo, who claimed he’s an american surgeon who is living in UK, and he’s looking from a serious relationship. Not too long after, we exchanged our phone numbers and started to chat there. The guy claimed that his father is a native american, who was divorced by his italian mother who now lived in Australia. He claimed to speak italian and a catholic. His “photo” shows a very good looking guy in his 40 although I barely could see a trace of mixed ancestry. The guy in the photo looked like someone of middle east ancestry, more like jews than an italian actually. His chat of course, was full of affectionate words, he would always start his chat with “I am thinking about you”, “I care about you” etc etc. He also sent me his “photos” working with his patiens. But the photos were weird – a lot of them looked cropped and had smaller resolutions. A simple reverse search shows the sources of those photos. A-ha! I told to myself, an identity theft!
At that point I should have stopped, but I am curious still: how do those scammers would try to get money from their victim? Let’s say he’s really visiting me in Jakarta, wouldn’t he in the end, will show himself, get caught in the public camera before can do anything harmful to me?
I tried to confront him and asked him for a video call or audio call to cross check my findings. The guy’s real profile speaks with a perfect american accent with no italian accent at all, and his father is still alive and not a native american person. I laughed when the guy rejected my request by saying he broke his phone few years ago after a fight with his ex and has been unable to do a video call or voice call ever since (now that’s the dumbest story you can tell). I then asked the guy, “hey, why did you steal Dr. Richard Zoumalan’s identity?”. The guy blocked me and then he’s gone. Good riddance. The guy’s profile is unfortunately, still floating on planet romeo. No matter how many times I reported the profile, planet romeo just won’t take down the profile. I tried to contact dr Richard Zoumalan through facebook, but since he’s a renowned public figure, I am doubtful my message will ever be delivered to him.
Ok that settles the first scam. The second one!
I met this guy on Scruff. He claimed to work as a consultant at a civil engineering company located in new york. Unlike the first one, we didn’t really chat that much, but we did exchanging pictures few times (nothing graphical), and learning from my first encounter, I also grew suspicious with this guy. Finally the time came for him to throw the bait. He told me he was about to visit Jakarta, thus he sent me the details about his flight ticket and his hotel itinerary, which showed his “legal name”. I checked his legal name and found out there was no result on google. Which is impossible of course. You cannot hide your identity that good. I could even find my mom’s name, who is not active in internet like I do. Red flag? Definitely. But since his itinerary contains another number which is different than his whatsapp number, I crosschecked the number again with TrueCall. Turned out the phone numbers originated from Iowa. Another red flag. I concluded that this guy most probably a scammer, but I still wanted to try how it would play out.
During the day he claimed to take a flight to Jakarta, he turned off his phone to ensure he really traveled to Jakarta. He even made a phone call to me (I couldn’t recognize the accent – it didn’t have a strong american accent) to convince me that he arrived.
Now the climax arrived: he texted me shortly he was arrested by the immigration officer because he brought $350,000 in his luggage, and he needed to pay a fee to be bailed out. He claimed that he needed “anti terrorism certificate clearance”. When he said that, I immediately texted him the phone number of American embassy and told him to ask their assistance. I googled about this certificate clearance thing, and reconfirmed my suspicion as there is no thing such as anti terrorism certificate clearance. I am also quite updated with immigration’s policy and I know for sure, foreigners can bring up to $10,000 or more as long as they declare it. Even if they get arrested, they will not be caught at the immigration line because that’s not where the inspection happened.
The guy later texted me he needed my assistance. I then asked, what could I do for help?
An Indonesian woman (!!) called my number and asked me whether I can bail out my “friend” here. The story was: he brought $350,000 in his luggage, he currently has $4000 in his wallet, and he needs $800 more to pay for the certificate. I said bluntly, “I have no money”. Like seriously, who would believe that absurd story? Why not use that “money” to bail out yourself? That’s a very poor plot, and little did he realize my wallet is tougher to crack than my heart.
This two events were an eye-opening events for me though. Previously I have always been deluding myself there might be someone out there for me even the person is a foreigner. Now, use that insecurity, sweet words, and identity theft, I was actually vulnerable for this romance scam. My friends often called me “stingy” because I concern too much about money (a typical Chinese trait), but at least I knew, if someone you never met you asked you to transfer money, it’s definitely a scam, and I didn’t let my vulnerability ruin my finance.
Later on, I read about this scam, and there have been many victims. For example this guy lost $500K.
I shared my story to my LGBTQ friends later, and they were surprised to hear. Not too long after, a friend from the community also received the similar scam! It’s happening real time and I advised him to do the right thing and saved him from the trouble. It’s great that my experience saved other people.
Since LGBTQ community are more vulnerable, I can tell why it’s happening. We want to believe there is someone out there that can be part of our life, but seriously, when someone asks you to transfer money and there have been so many red flags, you know what to do.