Following police operations in seven provinces, a Nigerian man and 13 Thais were detained as part of a romance scam group responsible for syphoning over 800 million baht (US$22.7 Million) out of Thailand over a three-year period.
Police from the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) searched 14 places on Thursday, including seven in Bangkok, two in Phitsanulok, and one each in Pathum Thani, Uthai Thani, Uttaradit, Kamphaeng Phet, and Phichit, according to CSD commander Pol Maj Gen Montree Theskhan.
There were 21 mobile phones, 20 bank account books, a mutual fund book, two computers, five sets of offshore money transfers, a SIM card, three memory cards, and two Chanel bags seized from the 14 suspects.
Last year, a victim of their romance scam filed a complaint with CSD police, which resulted in the arrest. A romantic scam cost the victim more over one million baht.
According to the victim, one of the gang members began contact by using a photo of a beautiful foreign woman as her social media profile photo. The scammer, masquerading as an American female soldier in Syria, engaged the victim in online talks, claiming love and intentions to visit Thailand.
Following the establishment of trust, the fraudster claimed to have sent him valuable goods that were held up at the airport due to taxes. According to Pol Maj Gen Montree, the victim was pushed into paying the taxes with promises of compensation.
When the victim fell for the scam, the scammer asked a Thai accomplice to appear as an airport employee and use phone calls to extort money from him for said tax and service costs.
According to Pol Col Pornsak Laorujiralai, deputy CSD chief, the victim made many transfers totaling over a million baht.
He claimed that once the scammers had the victim’s money, they were no longer reachable.
According to Pol Lt Col Akkharaphon Maneewan, deputy superintendent of CSD subdivision 1, police began tracing down the perpetrators and eventually acquired information indicating that the gang included both Thai and Nigerian nationals.
The Nigerian man was named as Ezeneche Uzochukwu Jerome, 45, who had previously been arrested for similar offences in 2018 and had repeated such behaviour following his release.
CSD detectives followed the Nigerian and his gang’s money trail and discovered that they would promptly move swindled money from their victims to international bank accounts.
According to Pol Lt Col Akkharaphon, around 800 million baht were transferred into foreign accounts between 2018 and 2021.
The CSD obtained court permission to arrest the Nigerian suspect and 13 Thai accomplices. All were detained by CSD police for legal action.
Protecting Yourself from a Romance Scam
A romance scam is a type of online deception where criminals create fake identities on dating sites, social media, or online forums to build a romantic relationship with the intention of defrauding the victim. These scams usually involve emotional manipulation, trust-building, and eventually requests for money or personal information. Here’s how a typical romance scam might unfold:
- Creating a Fake Profile: Scammers create attractive profiles using stolen photos and information. They often craft compelling backstories to make themselves appear genuine and relatable.
- Building a Connection: Once they’ve identified a potential victim, scammers start engaging in conversations to build an emotional connection. They use flattery, empathy, and shared interests to manipulate the victim’s emotions.
- Gaining Trust: Over time, scammers work to establish trust and intimacy with the victim. They may express deep feelings and even talk about future plans together.
- Isolating the Victim: Scammers might try to isolate the victim from friends and family, making the victim more dependent on the scammer for emotional support.
- Requesting Money: After establishing a strong emotional bond, scammers create fictional emergencies, such as medical expenses, travel costs to meet in person, or financial hardships. They ask the victim for money, often using guilt or urgency to pressure them into sending funds.
- Continuing Manipulation: If the victim complies with their initial requests, scammers may continue to ask for more money, claiming new problems or emergencies.
- Discovery and Realization: At some point, the victim may become suspicious or realize they’ve been scammed. This realization can be emotionally devastating, as the victim discovers the relationship they believed in was entirely fabricated.
To protect yourself from romance scams, here are some tips:
- Be Skeptical: Be cautious of individuals who rush into a deep emotional connection, especially if you’ve only communicated online.
- Protect Personal Information: Don’t share personal or financial details with anyone you’ve only met online, regardless of how close you feel.
- Verify Identities: Use reverse image searches to check if the photos in a profile are stolen from elsewhere on the internet.
- Stay Private: Be cautious about sharing personal information on social media that scammers could use to manipulate you.
- Don’t Send Money: Never send money to someone you’ve only met online, especially if their story seems suspicious.
- Research: If you’re unsure about someone, research their name, profile, and any stories they’ve told you. Scammers often reuse tactics and information.
- Stay Connected: Maintain relationships with friends and family, and share details of your online interactions to get their perspective.
If you suspect you’re being targeted by a romance scam, cease all contact with the individual, block their communication, and report the incident to the appropriate authorities or the platform you met them on.
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