She met him online, sent him money, then never heard from him again

SINGAPORE - His good looks on his online profile persuaded her into accepting his friend request on Facebook last November. After a month of chatting online, Amy's newfound "British" friend wanted to send her gifts for Christmas.

"He showed me photographs of the gifts, which included an Apple iPad, a MacBook Pro and branded perfumes. They were mostly expensive things," said Amy (not her real name).

But the man also said he needed £2,000 (S$4,200) to help pay for the delivery company's administration fees. He was rushing to attend a seminar in Paris and did not have enough cash with him.

Amy, 25, who works in the hotel industry, later remitted $1,000 to the delivery company.

Her presents never arrived and she did not hear from the man, who called himself William Dominic Rachel, again.

Amy is one of a growing number of women to fall victim to online love scams.

From January to June this year, there were 82 such cases, involving $3.1 million.

In the same period last year, there were only 22 such cases.

Police said such scams are mostly targeted at women searching for love online through dating or social networks.

Amy told The Straits Times she had tried to verify the man's identity before she was cheated.

"I found the website of the company he said he was working for. I saw a photo of him giving a talk in a seminar. And so I believed him," she said.

What Amy did not know was that William Dominic Rachel could have lifted the photo from the company's page and crafted a fake Facebook profile for himself.

Apart from such love scams, other Internet crimes on the rise include the "multiple payment online purchase scam" and "PayPal e-mail scam".

In their effort to combat cybercrimes, police have expanded their outreach efforts to digital advertorials, articles and even videos.

These are posted on various online networks such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other popular websites.

A recent video put up by the Punggol Neighbourhood Police Centre features a man who exposes his private parts online to someone he believes is a woman. But the person on the other side of the connection was revealed to be a man, who wanted to blackmail the victim.

Police have also created a microsite to educate the public on various types of scams.

Co-chairman of the Cyber Security Awareness Alliance in Singapore, Ms Shirley Wong, is not surprised that criminals are moving online, especially given the prevalence of social media users.

"It's easy to hide behind online personas, and harder to trace. People have to be more wary and alert of online offers, and be more suspicious especially when conducting transactions or procuring services online," she said.

The police said the public should do business with online companies that have an online track record, and not be lured by discounts. They should never give their bank account information, credit card numbers and personal details to anyone who they do not know or have not checked out.

And while it is good to check out online reviews of an online seller, the lack of complaints is no guarantee, given the rate at which fraudsters can set up new identities.

Additional reporting by Hoe Pei Shan

This article was published on Aug 14 in The Straits Times.

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