Tham Yuen-C & Amelia Tan Hui Fang – Straits Times Indonesia
Singapore. The young man thought he had found a friend. The 17-year-old girl he met on an online chatroom called Alamak.com was friendly.
Very friendly, in fact.
Within a month, their online chats had moved on to video chats, which then turned risque.
She started stripping for him.
He did the same, but that one session of cyber titillation ended up with him being terrorized for nine months and $97,000 poorer.
While he had taken off his clothes and performed what police described as ‘compromising acts’ for the girl, her boyfriend had recorded him doing so.
The couple then blackmailed him. They said he had to hand over money or they would put the clip online.
He parted with $97,000 in more than 80 transactions to prevent them from doing so.
He was one of five victims of the couple, who were arrested in an early morning raid at a Marsiling Drive flat yesterday. Two others were also nabbed in that raid.
Later in the afternoon, another two accomplices were arrested in Ang Mo Kio.
Police believe the girl and her boyfriend masterminded the scam, while the four others arrested had allowed them to use their bank accounts to receive money from the victims.
Unlike previous Internet love scams, which targeted mostly women, the latest con was aimed at men.
At a press conference yesterday, Superintendent Chua Chuan Seng, commander of the Ang Mo Kio Police Division that cracked the case, said that men were increasingly becoming targets.
The couple started their scam in February last year, and at least five people are believed to have fallen for her charms and stripped.
Three made police reports. All are unmarried Singaporean men in their 20s. One is a student, and the other two are working. The fourth and fifth victims were discovered after the police computer forensics team found their information in the four laptops confiscated during yesterday’s raid.
Besides the 22-year-old victim who lost $97,000, another victim is said to have paid the couple less than $500. A third did not pay the $8,000 the pair demanded and went to the police instead.
Deputy Superintendent Aileen Yap, deputy head of investigation at the Ang Mo Kio Police Division, said that in all the cases, the teenage girl would befriend her victims on Alamak.com, an online chatroom headquartered in Singapore.
She would then build a relationship with them before suggesting that they do “something exciting.” She would undress to encourage them to do the same.
Unknown to the victims, her boyfriend would be filming this on a mobile phone.
The 22-year-old victim was extorted right after his stripping session. His video chat with the teenager was interrupted by her boyfriend, who appeared on his video screen brandishing the phone and threatening to circulate the clip online if he did not pay $5,000.
Out of fear, he complied.
Over the next nine months, the boyfriend would telephone the victim, pretending to be her brother, father and once, even her lawyer, to extort more money.
Each time, the victim would transfer sums ranging from $200 to $8,000 to their bank accounts. But on Sunday, he finally got tired of paying and went to the police.
When The Straits Times visited the Marsiling Drive flat where four people were arrested, neighbors said the four had kept mostly to themselves.
A neighbor said she had seen the police on her way to work at 5 a.m. Two men and two women were lined up against the wall of the three-room flat, she said.
The two young women, she added, were “very pretty, with long hair.”
A housewife who lives on the same floor said a middle-aged divorcee has been living in the flat with his son for about six years.
Police have frozen all seven bank accounts used in the scam.
Superintendent Chua said the police believes there are other similar syndicates around.
“Anyone can become a victim of such a ploy,” he said. “You shouldn’t put yourself in a vulnerable position because you don’t really know who you are interacting with over the Internet.”
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times Indonesia. To subscribe to Straits Times Indonesia and/or the Jakarta Globe call 021 2553 5055.