Thirty members of a criminal gang have been detained in east China for allegedly fleecing sympathetic social media users who thought they were helping a woman escape a forced marriage.
The scam started late last year with the woman adding men on WeChat - China's most popular social media app - and then telling them her family had accepted a bride price for her to marry four brothers, none of whom she loved, the Xinmin Evening News reported on Thursday.
She said she ran away but felt obliged to pay back the money and the only way she could do so was by selling cordyceps - a fungus used in traditional Chinese medicine - online. Her posts were accompanied by images of a young woman holding out a handful of the traditional Chinese medicine and a request for people to buy it, the report said.
In the weeks that followed about 300 men, most aged between 30 and 50, agreed to help, with many of them foregoing the actual product and instead just making a donation to the woman's cause. Others paid more than 100 yuan (S$20) for a single piece of cordyceps that had a retail value of just 20 yuan.
It was only when they were contacted by the investigating officers that most of the victims realised they had been duped.
"A woman added me on WeChat in December and after chatting for some time said she was in trouble and did not want to be chained to a marriage," a man surnamed Li was quoted as saying. "I gave her 30,000 yuan out of sympathy as she was all alone."