A Singaporean woman on a solo trip to Taiwan came close to losing NT$30,000 (S$1,260) to a love scammer she first befriended on a dating app, but was saved by an alert convenience store employee, local police said.
The woman, identified as 24-year-old a post-graduate student surnamed Zhao, was travelling in Taiwan for more than a week and met a man known as “Chen Chen” on Tinder, the Tainan City Police Department said on Sunday.
Ms Zhao had agreed to meet her Tinder friend outside a FamilyMart convenience store in Tainan’s Minzu Road at 9pm on Saturday, with Chen Chen promising to play local tour guide in the southern Taiwan city.
Upon her arrival at the agreed meeting point, Chen Chen was nowhere to be seen. Instead, Ms Zhao received messages from him asking her to buy Apple gift cards worth NT$30,000 and send him proof of the purchases.
He identified himself as a host at a night entertainment venue, and said Ms Zhao would have to transfer a NT$20,000 sum to him as a “meeting fee” if she wanted to meet him.
When she hesitated, Chen Chen sent her a threatening and explicit video clip of a bloodied person with a deep abdominal stab wound over the messaging app Line.
Telling her the clip was taken a few days ago, he told her to “cooperate nicely”, which terrified Ms Zhao.
Police said they received a report from a convenience store employee at around 9pm on Saturday night.
The employee had noticed the woman behaving nervously in attempting to buy gift cards at the store and suspected she could be a scam victim.
Suspecting the police
Two Tainan police officers who were sent to investigate swiftly identified the case as a ruse, but first had to convince Ms Zhao.
In recorded video clips shared with The Straits Times by Tainan police, Ms Zhao could be heard saying her friends told her to be careful as the Taiwan police were in cahoots with local gangsters, to which the two police officers assured her that they were there to help and not extort her.
“What if you hand me over to him?” she told the police.
“This is Taiwan. If it’s Cambodia, I can’t guarantee,” replied one of the officers, referring to recent reports of Cambodian police being complicit in the country’s online scam operations.
She also said that Chen Chen would be looking for her as she had sent him her location and a photo of her identification card.
According to the police, Ms Zhao said she had been in daily contact with the scammer, who constantly checked in with her while she was in Taiwan and made her feel she had “found love”.
The police claimed that the scammer was not in Tainan, and was capitalising on her frightened state of mind to cheat her of her money.
They said they had previously encountered this scam strategy, where victims were persuaded to buy gift cards.
Ms Zhao was accompanied back to her homestay without having lost any of her travel money to the love cheat, a Tainan police spokesman said.
Online love scammers have made previous attempts, with one local 28-year-old woman asked to buy NT$120,000 worth of gift cards in May as a pre-condition to meet a “male model”, before she was similarly stopped by a vigilant convenience store employee.
“We have briefed convenience stores to contact us once they notice anything dubious, including people who are looking to buy gift cards in large amounts,” a Tainan police officer told The Straits Times.
“If it’s a local transaction made within one or two days, there may still be a chance to freeze the transfer if it is reported swiftly.”
He added that foreigners still make up a minority of scam victims in Taiwan, estimating the figure to be fewer than 10 per cent of all victims, adding that travellers can also call the “165” hotline specifically for reporting scams.
Tainan police also collaborated with local influencer Zamy, who has more than 750,000 Instagram followers, to produce a video revealing the known strategies of online love scammers.
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