Mum of six in UAE loses over RM1mil to crypto scam after being befriended by cybercriminal on WhatsApp


Scammers involved in the racket initiate contact through social media, dating apps, WhatsApp, or text messages, often by pretending to have made a mistake. Over several months, scammers build trust with their victims and then encourage them to invest in cryptocurrency trading, offering insider tips or investor knowledge. — Image by Freepik

An Arab businesswoman in Sharjah is reeling from the aftermath of a crypto scam that swindled her out of over a million dirhams (RM1.19mil).

The loss was even more devastating for Sara (name changed), a 51-year-old confectionery business owner and mother of six, as she had saved the money for her son’s wedding and to buy a house.

Sara recounted her traumatic experience with Khaleej Times, saying that it all began in mid-2022 with a seemingly innocuous WhatsApp message that read, “Hello, is this Mr John? My assistant recommended you to me. Are you still selling beauty equipment? I'd like to buy a batch of equipment from you.”

Sara quickly texted back to clarify that she was not the intended recipient of the message. The person on the other end responded by asking, “So what can I call you dear?” Sara gave her name. Much to her surprise, she received a friendly message in return that read, “Nice to meet you. I hope this is a beautiful accident. I am Coco from Hong Kong. Where are you from?”

The brief exchange quickly escalated into friendly conversations about their work and family. Coco said that she was divorced and had a flourishing skincare business in Hong Kong and London. Sara was impressed and the two began chatting regularly.

Not long after striking a friendship, Coco began telling Sara about her aunt who was supposedly helping her make money through cryptocurrency trading.

Despite her initial scepticism, Sara became interested when Coco told her that she could be operating her own account.

In October 2022, Sara made an investment of US$12,000 in the crypto trading platform recommended by Coco. Initially, Sara saw some returns, but Coco kept pushing her to invest more and more money to maximise her profits.

By March 2023, Sara had forked out around US$200,000 (RM880,080 or Dh734,000) including Dh100,000 (RM119,827) borrowed from her 26-year-old daughter.

Investigations have since revealed that the crypto trading platform was fake. It was designed to simulate trade activity and mislead investors into believing they were making huge returns.

Pipe dreams

Sara was thrilled when the platform showed that investments had swelled to US$400,000 (RM1.76mil).

“I was excited and started planning about all the wonderful things we would do with the money.”

Sara said when she tried to withdraw the money, she got an email asking for US$73,000 (RM321,229) in taxes. “Coco assured me that this was standard practice so I wired the money.”

However, a few days later, the website disappeared and Coco stopped responding.

Sara was a victim of a long-term fraud scheme.

Scammers involved in the racket initiate contact through social media, dating apps, WhatsApp, or text messages, often by pretending to have made a mistake. They persist in striking up a conversation even after being informed they’ve reached the wrong person.

Over several months, scammers build trust with their victims and then encourage them to invest in cryptocurrency trading, offering insider tips or investor knowledge. They direct victims to download an app or visit a website and sometimes offer to trade alongside them. Unknown to the victims, the platform is controlled by scammers.

“My total loss exceeds one million dirhams,” said Sara who has since filed a police complaint.

“I have only myself to blame. I regret not making an attempt to talk to Coco verbally. We just exchanged text messages. I thought she was a friend and genuinely wanted to help me make money.”

Sara reached out to Khaleej Times last week after discovering a report about a similar scam in the newspaper, regretting not reading it earlier. A previous report from January this year featured the story of an ex-IT director in Dubai who lost Dh650,000 (RM778,877) in a crypto-romance scam after receiving messages from a fraudster who also identified herself as Coco. Last year, Khaleej Times reported how an Ajman resident lost US$47,000 (RM206,818) to a similar scam.

Dad-of-five Sajjad Khan, 40, 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.

Law authorities in the UAE has repeatedly urged the public to remain vigilant when using social media.

Huge costs

Cybercrime is expected to cost the world US$10.5 trillion (RM46.20 trillion) annually, according to Cybersecurity Ventures, the world's leading researcher and publisher covering the global cyber economy.

BIlionaire businessman and philanthropist Warren Buffet calls it the number one problem with mankind and cyberattacks are a bigger threat to humanity than nuclear weapons.

The scammer’s playbook:

1. Initiate contact with the target by sending a “wrong number” text message or through a dating app.

2. Build a relationship through friendly, romantic messages over several months

3. Encourage the target to invest money in a crypto trading platform

4. Gain trust by letting the person withdraw small amount as supposed profit.

5. Seek bigger investment.

6. Disable the website and disappear with the money. – Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates/Tribune News Service

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