Sex scammers prey on victims' desires

Sex scammers prey on victims' desires
Hundreds of men here have fallen prey to the credit-for-sex scam this year.

Before last week, he had never heard of iTunes.

But that didn't stop Mike (not his real name) from buying $6,300 worth of iTunes gift cards for a "girl".

Last Saturday, The New Paper reported that this year, over 200 men here have fallen prey to such credit-for-sex scams.

And the number is rising. Last month alone, 141 cases were reported.

The ruse involves scammers, who claim to be young and attractive women on social media, enticing men to buy online credit for them in exchange for sexual favours. (See report on facing page.)

The scam seems simple enough but what makes victims willing to fork out money for someone they don't know or haven't even met?

Scammers target basic human needs and desires like greed and the desire to be liked, explained Mr Jeffery Chin, 34, a senior psychologist at the Home Team Behavioural Sciences Centre.


In Mike's case, the scammer identified herself as Sisi and pretended to be a Taiwanese woman working here as a social escort.

She claimed she needed money to send her brother to university. Mike agreed to help by taking over and paying for one of her appointments with a client.

Mr Chin told TNP: "There was already a commitment on his part to help the scammer so there would be a strong tendency for him to honour his agreement."

Reciprocity is another factor behind Mike's willingness to pay.

His payment for the appointment with Sisi included a membership fee for the social escort service. To persuade him, Sisi offered to pitch in for that fee.

Mr Chin said: "When Sisi said she was trying to help Mike raise the money, there was a greater likelihood for him to reciprocate and do his part.

"Especially if the commitment was in line with what he wanted."

Mike's repeated payments without receiving anything in return could be attributed to the sunk cost effect, Mr Chin added.

"When the victims have already invested so much, both emotionally and financially, they are willing to pay just a bit more."

Another explanation could be the near-win phenomenon, where victims feel they are close to claiming their reward.

"They tend to think: 'I'm almost there. If I just do one more thing, I'll get my reward.'"

Mr Chin said that as with most scams, the scammers prey on common errors in decision-making using a variety of persuasion tactics.

"They may portray themselves as pitiful and this activates a basic social norm to help someone in need."

Terms of endearment or flattery are other tactics they employ to influence victims more easily.

"Scammers tend to stir up strong emotions when interacting with the victims. This causes the victims to lower their guard and make snap judgments."

Mr Chin advised the public to be careful when interacting with strangers and avoid getting into financial transactions with them.

He also said there is no particular demographic that is more susceptible to scams and that everyone should exercise caution.

Mr Chew Jingwei, who heads the Commercial Affairs Department's syndicated fraud branch, said: "Initial investigations revealed that these scammers are based overseas. We are currently working with foreign counterparts and stakeholders to solve the case."

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