My father was a wise man and in many ways, he foresaw the future and made provisions for my mother when he was diagnosed with cancer, right down to choosing his burial plot and clearing his debts. There was only one thing he did not foresee: the advent and prevalence of social media in his absence and how that would affect my mother.
It was 8 years since his passing when I noticed a sudden change in my mother’s demeanour. She became enamoured with her own reflection, often stroking her hair and preening when she thought no one was looking. She was obsessed with texting on her iPad or iPhone and became unreasonable when she could not access her Facebook or Skype. My mother had discovered the world wide web of good-looking, rich and most importantly, attentive men. They ranged from military men, to devoted doctors, wealthy businessmen and more often than not, they were Godly. They were always mysterious, difficult to get hold of and would spend hours texting my mother with sweet words of praise and promises.
I discovered that these men who approached her on Skype and Gmail, are unfortunately, not who they say they are. Their profile photos were stolen from someone else’s social media account. Their emails looked suspiciously botched up. Often they would slip up, using the wrong name, talking about my mother’s blue eyes (her eyes are dark brown). They never revealed their faces but relied on voice chat and text messaging. The fact that my mother was a prime target didn’t help matters. She was lonely, naïve and full of pride. Not only that, she revelled in the attention, chatting with 3 or 4 men at a go. Despite repeated warnings and admonishments and even proof of deception, she continued indulging in this pastime.
The first couple of men she gave money to stopped talking to her after she sent them AUD5,000 each. One claimed he was ill and needed money, another one claimed to be a multimillionaire with property in Dubai but his money was all tied up in “investments”. She seemed devastated and vowed to stop speaking to strangers online.
February this year, my mother was scammed again. Her online lover, was supposedly a British-born Chinese man based in London named Ben Wong, befriended her in November on Facebook last year. He informed her that he sent her a handbag and some shoes. A Malaysian Chinese woman named Mary rang her to say that the parcel was held up in customs because it contained £30,000. If my mother wanted the parcel she had to remit sums of money to a Maybank account, which was in a Malay lady’s name. The mysterious parcel never materialised and her lover and Mary disappeared into thin air the moment my mother stopped remitting money.
Did my mother lose her head because of love or greed? Perhaps a combination of both. You would argue that she should have learnt her lesson, having lost money twice before this. In fact, she was warned about how they operated. She thought she was smart. She thought she could not be conned.
I’m writing this because anyone can be fall victim to this scam. The scammers are experts at preying on your desperation and loneliness. They say the right things at the right time and they find ways to detach you from your loved ones. I’m exposing my “dirty laundry” in the hopes that you will not have to go through what my family did when my mother lost RM170,000 to a syndicate of local and Nigerian scammers.
Sure signs you’re involved in an online lovers scam:
- If it’s too good to be true, it’s a scam.
Handsome? Check. Rich? Check. Has fallen completely in love with you by the second sentence. Waitaminute….! All the men who approached my mother claimed love at first type. Plus £30,000 in a parcel? Uhm, yeah.
- If he’s too hard to pin down, it’s a scam.
These men were always unavailable unless they called or chatted you first. They were either traveling, or working on a ship, somewhere faraway where Skype is not allowed (???). And they never ever video chat you. Why? Because he doesn’t look anything like that handsome military man in his profile photo.
- If he asks you for money, it’s a scam.
The moment there’s money involved, you should be on high alert. Why would Mr. Rich ask you for money for his ailing son/random illness/to tide him over while he waits for his multi-million dollar deal to go through? Because IT IS A SCAM. Oh wait, but his SON emailed me asking for money. Uhm, yeah. Once again repeat after me, if ANYONE online asks you for money, it’s a scam.
So you’re too smart to be scammed but worried someone you love might be in danger of losing her head, heart and money? What are the tell-tale signs?
It’s time for an intervention when:
- She suddenly becomes very secretive or there’s a sudden change in behaviour
During the scam, my mother would rather stay at home in front of the laptop/desktop/tablet/phone screen than go for a Chinese New Year gathering where there’s free food. My mother never turns down free food. She used to be all about family gatherings but suddenly insisted that I go ahead without her.
- She gets frequent phone calls or text messages from strangers
My mother snatched her phone away whenever it rang and panics when she can’t find her phone. She hid in the Subang Parade ladies toilet (until I found her) talking to the scammer. She was indignant and rude when I asked about her caller.
- She keeps telling untruths and her stories sound farfetched
My mother kept insisting Ben Wong was her friend’s son who needed help. She failed to justify why her friend’s son would call her “honey”. She also claimed to be running errands (for five days in a row!) when she actually went to the bank to withdraw money.
It is easy to direct my anger at the scammers for what has happened. However, my father often said pride comes before a fall. As much as my mother would like to blame this on her ignorance or those evil men, she had every opportunity to take a step back but was too stubborn to do so. Along the way there were kind Samaritans, friends and family members who stepped in and tried to stop my mother. My parting advice: arm yourself with knowledge and spread the word about these con artists. Then maybe, just maybe we might be able to protect the vulnerable from falling victim to these scams.
“A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” – William Shakespeare