Most victims of romance scams in Thailand are women in their 40s. Middle-aged women are the main targets of criminal gangs who prey on those who have taken the questionable step of seeking true love online.
Online fraud, including romance scams, has become a serious problem in Thailand, judging by the number of complaints filed with the Royal Thai Police. For many, it is inexplicable that such multitudes of people choose to seek, or claim to seek, true romance online. Why do they even think such a thing is possible?
The answer seems to lie more in the attitude of the apps than the scammers. Perhaps people are being “sold” something they did not expect. The key seems to lie in semantics.
These are “dating” apps – not “romance”, not “marriage”, not “fin-tech.” These apps are very good at finding dates for people. That is their only purpose. They are not designed nor intended to be a source of love, marriage or romance. It’s dates, stupid. You find dates on the app. You find marriage and romance on dates.
Thousands of men and women in Thailand seem to be quite willing to make “friends” with distant strangers through apps which are well-known to be the source of scammers and frauds, much more so than they are known for generating spouses. There is little doubt that more scams are going on at these apps than weddings.
Not only do victims of romance scams make friends with distant strangers whom they have no prospect of ever meeting, but they also listen to the most bizarre stories and swallow them whole.
After sending off their life savings to the tall dark stranger they have never met, these dating app users think it is the job of the police to exact revenge. Something is not right. Women – not Thai women – have been known to send money to astronauts trapped on orbiting spacecraft. And tell the police they have been scammed. It’s a travesty of justice and a waste of public resources.
Police Lt-Colonel Tananat Kangruambut, an inspector at the Cyber Crime Investigation Bureau, said on Friday that people in their 40s – women mostly – are easy targets as their relationships with their spouses were on a decline.
It’s only a partial answer. Tananat does not provide any guidance on why a declining marriage implies the desire to engage with a person or persons unknown via an app. Why don’t they go to the temple or join a dance class?
“Their spouses work so hard they have no time for intimate relationships for a long time,” Tananat said, demonstrating absolutely zero understanding of the matter.
According to him, online criminals carefully studied their potential victims through their public profiles before approaching them with seeming sincerity, which might be true in a small number of cases, but mostly it’s just a scatter-gun approach.
These criminals use fake profile photos and invented profiles and backgrounds to chat with their victims to help ease their loneliness while gaining their trust – but doesn’t everyone? Dating site users appear to have no problem using filters to hideously distort their appearance, and no one expects the unvarnished truth on a dating app. The job is to try to use your intelligence to prevent yourself from being robbed, not police manpower.
“When the criminals manage to win the hearts of their victims, they create a feeling of bonding in those who fall prey. They then start to trick their victims to transfer money to them,” the police officer said. And they do, there is no doubt about it, but these victims are fully willing and making their own choices.
“Do not send money to people you meet online” is advice any 8 year old can comprehend.
He said the victims of romance scams often do not consult anyone as they blame themselves. And they might be right to do just that, at least as a first step to recovery.
More than 200,000 complaints with losses totalling over 30 billion baht (US$1 billion) were filed between after March last year via Thaipoliceonline.com.
Tananat said that in many cases, the victims of romance scams told police investigators that they would commit suicide unless the culprits were arrested and their money was returned.
“They lost a lot of money and they were at the wits’ end.”
At that point, police have to seek help from the Department of Mental Health, he said.
Too little, too late.
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