"Diamond customs fee" love scam (2019)

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In July 2019, “Alice” (not her real name) was caught up unwittingly in a love scam. She had wired S$7,000 to an overseas bank after she was asked to pay the customs fee for a package of diamonds. A love scam is often an indirect extortion of money where the victim has been emotionally manipulated into the situation.

Details of scam

"Alice" and local news reporters at the interview. Photo credit to Lim Yaohui (ST Photo).

Alice relayed the following information to local news reporters in an interview. The Singapore Police Force (SPF) arranged the interview for the media to warn the public of online love scams.[1]

Establishing the relationship

Nursing a heartbreak after the end of her one-year relationship, 43-year-old Alice went on a trip to Taiwan and met a man named “Francis” on a dating app.[2] Francis claimed to be a Taiwanese diamond dealer living in the United States of America.[3] Upon finding out that Alice was 43 years old, Francis admitted that he had lied about his age. He then claimed to be 44 years old, instead of 39 years old as was stated on his dating profile.[4]


According to Alice, they chatted and called each other every day on WhatsApp in the morning and evening.[5] Their phone conversations lasted two hours each time.[6] They also shared selfies and photos of their lives. In Alice’s words, these visual proof “seemed so real” that she did not have any suspicions. However, they never video-called as Francis claimed that his camera was not working.[7]


Francis sent Alice romantic poems every day and laced their conversations with sweet talk. He shared intimate details about his life, stating that his mother had died about five years ago. As such, he felt empty and alone and needed someone in his life. While he did ask Alice to be his girlfriend several times and was willing to come to Singapore to meet her, Alice declined as she was still recovering from her break-up.[8]

Alleged diamond customs fee

After two weeks of interaction, Francis asked Alice for a loan of US$5,000 (S$7,000). He claimed that “he had a package of diamonds worth US$800,000 and needed help to pay the customs fee so that the package could reach his clients”.[9] Alice readily agreed and attempted to transfer the amount to an Italian bank account. However, the transfer did not go through.[10]


The second time around, she transferred the money via Internet mobile banking to a US account under Interaudi Bank. Three days later, Francis claimed that he had not received the funds and asked for another transfer. He persistently called and texted her for the funds. This raised a red flag as Alice had transferred funds overseas multiple times before.[11]

Police report (20 August 2019)

Suspicious, Alice checked the status of the transfer with her bank. Her bank confirmed that the transfer was successful. After seeking advice from her sister, Alice made a police report on 20 August 2019.[12] Alice retrieved her money two weeks after the police were notified.[13]

Statistics

According to statistics from the Singapore Police Force (SPF), there has been a rise in the number of reported love scams in Singapore. The largest amount cheated in a single case in the first six months of 2019 was S$2.4 million. However, the details of this case remain undisclosed.[14]

No. of reported cases Total amount lost (SGD)
Jan - Jun 2019 306 $17.1 million
Jan - Jun 2018 288 $11.7 million

Case analysis

The tactics of internet love scammers can be broken down as follows.

Scammer profile[15]

Most scammers will cultivate a persona that seems dependable and trustworthy. This is to lower the defenses of potential targets.

Tactic "Diamond customs fee" Red Flags
Choosing professions like a businessman, an engineer or a lawyer Francis portrayed himself as a diamond dealer. This is a profession that has the connotation of wealth and prestige attached to it.
Talking about religion and family Francis wove a story about the death of his mother.

Victim grooming

Most scammers would first study their victims by looking for their personal information online. They would then create a profile that matches the victim’s hobbies, interest or profession. According to a police study, scammers are more likely to contact people in their late 30s and 40s on dating apps while they prefer to contact older victims on Facebook.[16] By grooming their victims, they establish an emotional attachment with the target. This makes the target easier to manipulate.

Tactic "Diamond customs fee" Red Flags
Choosing emotionally vulnerable targets Alice had just ended a one-year relationship.
Providing visual and/or verbal proof (eg. selfies, videos, audio calls)
  • Francis and Alice spoke to each other on the phone daily for two weeks.
  • They shared photos with each other.


This created a false sense of security for Alice as she developed a stronger emotional attachment to Francis.

Declining live video calls Francis declined to video call saying that his camera was not working.
Disclosing vulnerabilities[17] Francis claimed to feel empty and lonely.

False crisis

After establishing an emotional relationship, these scammers would then feign a personal or business crisis. The victims are asked to transfer money to an overseas bank. These individuals would willingly do so due to the earlier emotional manipulation. Victims only realise they have been scammed after transferring the money.[18]

References / Citations

  1. Wang, Nabilah. “Internet love scammers target those who are emotionally vulnerable, say police”. Today. September 4, 2019. Accessed 27 September 2019. Retrieved from todayonline.com.
  2. Wang, Nabilah. “Internet love scammers target those who are emotionally vulnerable, say police”. Today. September 4, 2019. Accessed 27 September 2019. Retrieved from todayonline.com.
  3. Ng, Charmaine. “Love-scam victim wired $7k ‘Customs fee for diamonds’”. The Straits Times. September 5, 2019. Accessed 27 September 2019. Retrieved from straitstimes.com.
  4. Wang, Nabilah. “Internet love scammers target those who are emotionally vulnerable, say police”. Today. September 4, 2019. Accessed 27 September 2019. Retrieved from todayonline.com.
  5. Ng, Charmaine. “Love-scam victim wired $7k ‘Customs fee for diamonds’”. The Straits Times. September 5, 2019. Accessed 27 September 2019. Retrieved from straitstimes.com.
  6. Wang, Nabilah. “Internet love scammers target those who are emotionally vulnerable, say police”. Today. September 4, 2019. Accessed 27 September 2019. Retrieved from todayonline.com.
  7. Ng, Charmaine. “Love-scam victim wired $7k ‘Customs fee for diamonds’”. The Straits Times. September 5, 2019. Accessed 27 September 2019. Retrieved from straitstimes.com.
  8. Ng, Charmaine. “Love-scam victim wired $7k ‘Customs fee for diamonds’”. The Straits Times. September 5, 2019. Accessed 27 September 2019. Retrieved from straitstimes.com.
  9. Ng, Charmaine. “Love-scam victim wired $7k ‘Customs fee for diamonds’”. The Straits Times. September 5, 2019. Accessed 27 September 2019. Retrieved from straitstimes.com.
  10. Wang, Nabilah. “Internet love scammers target those who are emotionally vulnerable, say police”. Today. September 4, 2019. Accessed 27 September 2019. Retrieved from todayonline.com.
  11. Wang, Nabilah. “Internet love scammers target those who are emotionally vulnerable, say police”. Today. September 4, 2019. Accessed 27 September 2019. Retrieved from todayonline.com.
  12. Ng, Charmaine. “Love-scam victim wired $7k ‘Customs fee for diamonds’”. The Straits Times. September 5, 2019. Accessed 27 September 2019. Retrieved from straitstimes.com.
  13. Wang, Nabilah. “Internet love scammers target those who are emotionally vulnerable, say police”. Today. September 4, 2019. Accessed 27 September 2019. Retrieved from todayonline.com.
  14. Ng, Charmaine. “Love-scam victim wired $7k ‘Customs fee for diamonds’”. The Straits Times. September 5, 2019. Accessed 27 September 2019. Retrieved from straitstimes.com
  15. Wang, Nabilah. “Internet love scammers target those who are emotionally vulnerable, say police”. Today. September 4, 2019. Accessed 27 September 2019. Retrieved from todayonline.com.
  16. Wang, Nabilah. “Internet love scammers target those who are emotionally vulnerable, say police”. Today. September 4, 2019. Accessed 27 September 2019. Retrieved from todayonline.com.
  17. Burgess, Daniel. “Internet love scam victim warns others”. The New Paper. September 5, 2019. Accessed 27 September 2019. Retrieved from tnp.sg.
  18. Burgess, Daniel. “Internet love scam victim warns others”. The New Paper. September 5, 2019. Accessed 27 September 2019. Retrieved from tnp.sg.