Ally*, 31, discovered her online "boyfriend" was a scam artist who threatened to release footage of her naked. She tells us how she pulled through the sextortion attempt - and why she's no longer afraid of him.
"Miss, you're being scammed," the manager at the Western Union counter at Changi Airport said to me. I stared at her dumbfounded. I had wanted to wire $3,000 to a branch in Malaysia so my Scottish boyfriend, Ned*, could be released from detention at Kuching International Airport.
Ned and I had connected over Facebook last October. After six months of chatting online and over the phone, he was finally visiting me in Singapore and I had eagerly gone to the airport to meet him.
There, I got a phone call from a woman who identifi ed herself as a Malaysian customs officer. She claimed that Ned had been detained for bringing in over US$30,000 (S$37,500) into the country, and she demanded that I pay for his release.
When the Western Union manager heard my request, she asked how I'd met Ned. I told her and she replied point-blank: "Miss, this is a scam. We've seen many cases like yours before." I refused to believe her. "I don't want my friend to get hurt," I implored.
Seeing I was not convinced, she put me on the line to the bank's vice president, who told me calmly: "Miss, let me tell you your story. Tell me if it sounds familiar."
She then related with chilling accuracy the timeline of Ned's and my relationship: the Facebook encounter. Our virtual romance. The plans to meet in Singapore. His detention at an airport. The demand that I pay a "fine" for his release.
It was a story she had heard many times from other women. She had even given her contact number to all Western Union branches in Asia so staff could alert her if they met women who fell prey to such scams. Women like me.
"You have to make a police report," she advised. "Oh crap," I thought.
A mysterious suitor It had all started about six months before with a simple Facebook message: Hi, I'm an engineer from the UK. I'm looking for someone to chat with. His profile page showed a photo of a 40-something Caucasian. He said his name was Ned and he looked nice enough.
My interest was piqued. "Why not?", I thought, replying to his message.
Though I didn't admit it then, I was longing for a friend. I had been going through a rough patch at work; I wanted to quit but needed the income. I was close to depression.
To make matters worse, I had few friends to confide in. A Malaysian, I had moved to Singapore two years ago. Most of my loved ones were back home and I was single, my last relationship being eight years ago.
I was also an introvert so I tended to do things on my own, convincing myself I didn't need friends. In my free time, I read books, listened to music and window shopped - all alone.
Then Ned came along. We started chatting online but I doubted whether he was for real. After all, I'd read about online scams - crooks who gained their victims' trust before cheating them of money.