Online romance for 77-year-old with "tycoon" turns into nightmare

KUALA LUMPUR - A 77-year-old retiree from the United States thought she had found true love online and came to Malaysia to meet the "dashing construction tycoon".

After meeting her on social media, he would constantly send her passionate e-mail messages and their online romance blossomed.

The man then claimed that he could double her money if she invested in his businesses.

She had already wired US$225,000 (S$305,900) to his account and sent him a further US$60,000 (S$81,600) via two packages through a courier service when he asked her to meet him in Malaysia.

She flew here on Sunday and that was when her nightmare began.

The woman, whose identity has been withheld, was greeted by a man who claimed he would take her to her lover.

He brought her to a hotel in Puchong and ran off with her luggage, as well as her identification and travel documents.

She made her way to the US embassy and told her story to the officers there, who said she might have been the victim of an elaborate scam.

Federal Commercial Crime Investigation Department deputy director (intelligence and operations) Senior Asst Comm Mohd Sakri Arifin said his team was contacted by embassy officials and was told that she had sent a package containing money to an address in Setapak.

"We watched the premises and when two men came to collect the package on Monday, we arrested them.

"We seized US$30,000 (S$40,800), various identification documents, mobile phones, three ATM cards and a car," he told reporters at the Federal CCID headquarters yesterday.

He said the two suspects of African descent were aged 26 and 33 and had been in Malaysia since 2015 on student visas.

"We also managed to extract (online) conversations between the suspects and the victim. Based on the scripts, it was evident that they were experts at manipulating victims by sending them sweet and passionate love letters via e-mail," he said, adding that police were still looking for the remaining US$255,000 (S$346,800).

He said police were also hunting for other members of the syndicate.

"Between January and June this year, the amount of losses (through scams) was down to RM50.5 million (S$16 million) from RM53.4 milion (S$17 million), compared to the same period last year," SAC Mohd Sakri said.

"The number of cases, however, increased from 950 to 1,302 in the same period," he said.

He urged people to be cautious when meeting strangers online.

He said that if anyone asked to make monetary transactions online, warning bells should already go off.

"Never make such transactions when you have not even met your 'sweetheart' in person," he said.

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