SINGAPORE - Look, it can't happen to me. That is probably what some of the women, scammed of thousands of dollars by Internet Romeos, said.
What many of these women did not realise was that these men knew how to exploit their blind spot - the things that make them vulnerable and oblivious to logic and common sense - like a need for companionship, love or just a listening ear.
The police said that the number of such cases had gone up from 50 in 2012 to 81 last year.
The amounts involved had also increased from $1.18 million in 2012 to $5.8 million last year.
Take the case of a 74-year-old woman, who wanted to be known only as Madam Susan, who lost a million dollars to one of these men.
She did not come across as naive when we spoke to her. In fact, she used to run her own successful import-export business before she retired.
Speaking to The New Paper on Friday, Madam Susan said that she became depressed when her husband died seven years ago.
After many years of married life, she missed the companionship of a man.
Then one day, after she placed an "in memoriam" newspaper advertisement for her husband in 2010, she got a call from a man with a British accent. She assumed he was her late husband's foreign business partner.
Declining to disclose the man's name, the grandmother of four said that he claimed to be a Briton and was 67 years old.
The widow said: "He sounded like my late husband's former business partner whom I've never met."
"At that time, I was depressed as I had lost my husband not long before that."
Madam Susan, who has two middle-aged children, said that the man then told her that he was coming to Singapore to buy some property.
She said that the man told her that he wanted to transfer $2 million from his bank account to hers for this transaction. The pair continued to stay in contact with each other via the Internet.
In early 2011, he told her that he was at the Malaysian immigration checkpoint on his way to Singapore, but encountered problems as his passport had expired.
He also claimed that he had no money and had to pawn his Rolex watch and gold chain to get cash.
However, not long afterwards, Madam Susan received a call from a woman claiming that the man was in a hospital in Kuala Lumpur as he had been hurt in a robbery.
She said: "The woman said that her husband was in the same hospital as the man and asked me for $20,000 to help settle the man's hospital bills."
Madam Susan prepared a cash cheque and it was then deposited into an alleged accomplice's bank account according to the woman's instructions.
This marked the start of his continual requests for money and she believed him every single time.
"He would ask me for money regularly - $10,000 here, another few thousand dollars there. I would then remit the money over as I trusted him. This went on until around August 2011," she said.
In late 2011, she received information that the man had supposedly transferred the $2 million to her bank account.
However, she was told that the money could not be released unless she sent over about US$100,000 (S$126,150) to another party, who pretended to be an officer from the "Malaysian Inland Revenue Board".
When she contacted her bank to find out more about the situation, she found out that there was no such money in her account. Only then did she realise that she had been a victim of an elaborate Internet scam.
"I was shocked and sent him an e-mail, telling him that he is a cheat. But I never did hear from him again.
"Looking back, I know I shouldn't have been so trusting. But I was depressed at that time and he took advantage of the situation.
"Luckily, I still have enough savings now to get by," said Madam Susan.
She declined to comment when asked how her family had felt about her predicament. But she told TNP that she made a police report only in September last year.
"I didn't know what to do when I found out I had been cheated as nobody came to my aid. But I watched a television programme about similar scams involving Nigerians.
"I saw that the victims later told the police about what they had gone through. Only then did I decide to make a police report," she said.
Police say that to avoid becoming victims of scams:
- Always be wary when contacted by strangers through the Internet or the telephone.
- Always check on the credibility of the information or messages you receive.
- Do not transfer money via remittance agents, banks or any other means to people you do not know.
- Be aware that any offers that are too good to be true are probably not what they appear to be. Dial 999 to report any cases.
- The police and the National Crime Prevention Council have also developed educational posters to remind members of the public on what they can do to avoid becoming victims of scams.
- The police have also roped in partners such as remittance agents to assist them in outreach efforts. These include asking workers there to be vigilant and look out for potential victims.
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