It all started with a harmless WhatsApp message, says the 54-year-old victim who had to borrow money from his wife and friends to get into the bogus deal
Reuters file photo used for illustrative purposes
A Dubai resident has been left broke and broken-hearted after losing his life savings to an elaborate crypto-romance scam.
Pratik Singh (name changed), a former IT director, said it all started with a seemingly innocuous message in late 2022. A woman who called herself Coco texted him on WhatsApp from a Hong Kong number asking if he was the manager of a certain hotel in Dubai. “I immediately messaged back to clarify that I was not the person she was looking for,” said Pratik.
The brief exchange quickly escalated into intimate conversations.
When Coco told Pratik, 54, she was hoping to visit Dubai soon, he wrote back: “Our first meeting will bring us closer together.”
“Yes, I think the only way we can be better together is this way,” Coco responded. “Have a happy and beautiful life.”
“We exchanged photographs,” Pratik recalled. “I was having issues with my wife of 20 years. Coco came as a breath of fresh air. She was an attractive young woman with an angelic face. I fell madly in love.”
“I said I was a good cook and made great Indian food. She said she loved Indian cuisine and asked me if I would cook for her,” he added.
Before long, Coco began telling Pratik about her friend Linda. “She said Linda was a Malaysia-based financial advisor who was helping her make money from crypto-currency trading. Coco then connected me to Linda so that I could also benefit from the opportunity.”
Initially, Pratik was sceptical. But when Linda told him he would operate and control his own account, his interest got piqued. A few days later, he opened an account on a crypto-trading platform using a link sent by Linda.
“I was on cloud nine. I thought I had found my soul mate and through her, an easy way to make money,” said Pratik.
Here’s a sample calculation he reportedly received:
That was in November last year. By December, Pratik had been conned out of $180,000 (Dh661,100), a substantial amount of which was borrowed from his wife and friends.
It turned out the crypto platform he was trading on was fake. “It was designed to run simulated trade in which I appeared to be making huge returns. But now, I know better,” said a devastated Pratik, who has now hired a company to help trace and possibly recover the money.
The chances of victims recovering money are slim, according to CipherBlade, a UK-based cryptocurrency investigative analysis firm. According to their estimate, worldwide losses from such scams topped “tens of billions of US dollars” in 2021 alone.
Global Anti Scam Organisation, a US and Singapore-based non-profit organisation, said crypto-romance scams are carried out on ‘a large scale’ around the world.
The Dubai Police have repeatedly issued warnings over the threat posed by cybercriminals creating fake profiles to snare unsuspecting victims using dating websites.
According to Lt-Gen Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, deputy chief of police and public security, billions of dollars are being lost to cyber theft and subversion.
Pratik said he started off with small investments, but Linda egged him on to fork out more and more money.
“One day, she told me they are having a supermarket and I should invest all my money to make the most of the unmissable opportunity. I followed her instructions and transferred all my savings to the crypto platform in anticipation of the supermarket. When this was not enough, I borrowed from my friends and wife who had just received her gratuity.”
When the ‘supermarket’ arrived in late November, Pratik couldn’t believe his good fortune. His investments had swelled to over $2.43 million.
Here’s a screenshot he sent to Khaleej Times:
Flush with cash, he started planning for his future. “I was so happy that I booked a first-class ticket to London to attend my daughter’s graduation,” he said.
Pratik said he realised he had been duped when Linda asked for the agreed 10 per cent commission from the purported Dh2.43 million he had earned from the trading.
“That was the first red flag. Sensing something amiss, I tried to withdraw my funds. It was a futile exercise. In desperation, I reached out to Coco and asked her to intervene. But she feigned innocence. Eventually, both Linda and Coco stopped responding,” said Pratik.
Here are screenshots from his last conversations with Coco:
“My life is in a shambles and I have only myself to blame. It never occurred to me to talk verbally to Coco or Linda. We just exchanged text messages,” added Pratik, who’s suffering from severe depression and undergoing psychiatric treatment.
Last year, Khaleej Times reported how an Ajman resident lost $47,000 to a similar scam.
Dad-of-five Sajjad Khan, 40, said he was sweet-talked into investing the money in a dodgy crypto trading platform by a ‘woman’ he met on a popular dating app but never in real life.
Khan had saved the money over several years to make a down payment against a house.
The modus operandi
Based on previous cases, here’s how cyber-romance scammers usually operate:
1. Initiate contact with target by sending a “wrong number” text message or through a dating app. The sender invariably has an attractive profile photograph.
2. Build a relationship with the target through romantic messages.
3. Peddle an attractive money-making scheme and coax the target to invest money using a trading platform
4. Gain trust by letting the person withdraw a small amount as alleged earnings or simulated profit.
5. Seek bigger investment.
6. Block the person once the transfer has been made and disappear after pocketing the money.