SINGAPORE - Soaring numbers of Singaporeans - mostly women - are falling victim to "Internet love scams" police said in a Valentine's Day warning that criminals are exploiting lonely hearts increasingly turning to the web to find partners.
The number of people robbed by online con artists faking romantic interest before tricking people out of money jumped 62 per cent between 2012 and 2013, police said in an annual crime briefing.
Official figures also show e-commerce rackets doubled to 509 in 2013.
The total amount reported lost to such forms of fraud in 2013 was S$6.01 million, police said, a steep rise from S$1.20 million in 2012.
Police said the victims of the online love scams were mainly women searching for partners in social networks and on dating websites.
The perpetrators, who mostly claimed to be British nationals though it is unclear where they were actually from, would ask the victims to transfer money to save them from difficult situations.
Ng Guat Ting, the police director of public affairs, attributed the surge in cyber crime to rising Internet usage in the affluent Southeast Asian city-state.
Official figures show 84 per cent of Singapore's 5.4 million population have access to the Internet.
"Naturally there are more people and more traffic, and therefore there will be an increase in criminal elements," Ng told reporters at the briefing.
She did not speculate on why the figures rose so dramatically in 2013 but said many of the cases arose because members of the public were entrusting money with people who they had not physically met or known previously.
The e-commerce scams mainly hit people who made purchases of technology products such as smartphones and tablets but did not receive what they paid for.
Many also made further payments after the perpetrators told them the shipments faced problems with customs authorities or the courier.
Police said the overall crime rate dipped to the lowest level in 30 years. The numbers of murders rose to 16 in 2013 from 11 in 2012, but police said all the cases had been solved.
Singapore is known for its tough stance on crime. The death penalty is mandatory for certain crimes such as drug trafficking and murder.
74-year-old widow cheated of $1 million
Shin Min Daily News reported that a 74-year-old woman was scammed of $1 million by a man who claimed to be her late husband's business partner.
The widow had met the man, who said his name was Roy Smith and that he was living in England, on a dating website in March 2010. The pair never met, but kept in regular contact via email, said Shin Min.
The Chinese evening daily reported that several months into their correspondence, the victim received a call from a female who called herself Victoria Brown.
Brown told the victim that Smith had been hospitalised and that he needed $20,000 to pay for the medical expenses.
The victim's first attempt to remit the amount to England failed as there was insufficient information on the payee.
Brown then suggested that she send the money to a friend who was living in Singapore.
As the victim was overseas at the time, she asked one of her friends to help with the remittance. But the friend believed it was a scam and tried to warn the victim.
Unconvinced, the victim eventually made the funds transfer herself.
After the first successful attempt, the con artists continued to ask the victim for money using different stories.
She gave in to their repeated requests but over time, her doubts grew and she finally made a police report in September last year.
Shin Min said that the victim is believed to have lost about $1 million to the scam.