Women in the Pacific are more likely to fall for romance scams according to the financial intelligence units in respective countries. Women over the age of 40 are primarily targeted because a large number of women from the Pacific hope to move abroad. Men are targeted as well.
This week Tongan police have raised an advisory about such scams as a Tongan woman in her 40s was befriended by a man from the United Kingdom.
After weeks of talking, the alleged scammer asked the woman to send her money and that is when she reported the matter to the police.
The man had called himself ‘Anthony Heich’ and his social media profile has limited posts and pictures, and his friends list is full of women from Pacific Island nations including Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Marshall Islands and Papua New Guinea.
Tongan police said that after befriending the woman, she was made to believe that the two had become romantically entangled and was slowly directed to communicate exclusively via WhatsApp.
“The WhatsApp number used by the scammer is +447488871744, and appears to be a United Kingdom number,” said the Tongan police in a statement.
“While believing that they were now a couple, the scammer promised the victim a fortune, convincing her that he would visit and that they would buy a house and car to celebrate his birthday.
“The next day after receiving these affectionate messages, another WhatsApp number, +61433803023 called the victim, directing to send US$2000 to pay for a package that arrived at the Fua’amotu Airport.”
The woman had started acquiring the money when she was alerted by a friend that this looked like a scam, and contacted police.
In another case, Tema Tauga of Lami in Fiji said her aunt had become deeply entangled and was in the process of selling her home to send money abroad.
“My aunt is in her 50s and this man from France started contacting her. She started sending money, US$200 or sometimes UD$500 in a week. She is well off and had money so (at the start) it was not an issue,” Ms Tauga said.
“Then she was promised by this younger man that they would get married and he would facilitate her move from Fiji. He then started asking for larger sums of money because he told her that they would build a house and when she arrives, they would live in together.”
Ms Tauga said her aunt was stopped after intervention from family members, who made her realise that she had been scammed more than US$7000.
Fiji’s Financial Intelligence Unit director Razim Nuksh has outlined that 60 per cent of people conned in cyber scams were victims of the romance scam. He said more women than men have reported being scammed.
“The most common element seen in romance scam is the existence of some form of social engineering where the fraudsters identify ways to gain the trust of the victims so they could ultimately send them money,” he said.
“The romance part is that in return of the money sent to them, a promise is made to send a package (with) jewellery, cash, electronics (or) clothing items which will not eventuate. So once they build the trust then they ask you for some money.”