Tokyo, Aug. 19 (Jiji Press)–The number of “romance scam” cases, in which offenders swindle money from people they get to know through matchmaking apps for marriage and relationships, is soaring in Japan.
People are increasingly looking for partners through such apps as they have fewer opportunities to go out amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
One expert warned that it is more difficult for potential victims to escape damage if they give their trust to the offenders.
The number of consultations over investments related to online matchmaking stood at only five in fiscal 2019, which ended in March 2020, according to the National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan.
But the figure grew to 84 in fiscal 2020 and reached that level only in the first four months of fiscal 2021.
In June this year, a woman in her 30s who lives in the Tohoku northeastern Japan region became acquainted through an app with a man who claimed to be a native of Canada and resident of Tokyo.
The woman was attracted by his face in the profile picture, had close communications with him via social media and fell in love with him, she recalled.
Later, the man introduced an investment scheme to her. She purchased cryptocurrency at a foreign exchange as instructed by him.
She said that the asset generated a profit of 60 dollars in several minutes and that she had “trusted the man thoroughly.”
The woman transferred a total of 6 million yen she gathered from her family and through consumer finance to the designated account, believing his words that he wanted to “seize a chance together” with her.
She realized that she had been defrauded only after she additionally sent 5.5 million yen, after the exchange requested a deposit to withdraw the money she had transferred.
The man in question and the woman knew each other only through exchanges of messages. She has never met him in person or heard his voice.
Later, she learned that his profile picture was a photo of a foreign celebrity and that the exchange did not exist.
“I was doubting (the man) but could not find any proof (that he was an imposter), and thought there was nothing wrong with what the man I loved said,” she said.
Terue Shinkawa, an author and counsellor who gives advice on romance scams, pointed out that many victims are people who started looking for partners after feeling lonely amid the pandemic.
She introduced cases in which offenders tried to prevent their exchanges with potential victims from becoming public, claiming these were secrets between them.
“It’s important to consult with others and search for the profile image online if you feel something is strange,” Shinkawa said.