The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted almost every aspect of life. As physical contact between humans had to be kept to a minimum, dating and romantic activities became increasingly popular on dating apps. And while some people have found their soulmates online, others have become victims of cryptocurrency scammers who have drained a significant portion of their savings.
One example is 33-year-old Tho Vu, who fell in love with a mysterious lover named Ze Zhao. After messaging on Hinge for several months, the couple began planning their wedding and honeymoon. Unfortunately for Ms. Vu, the man pretended to love her and allegedly drained her $300,000 worth of bitcoins.
In a separate WhatsApp case, another scammer lured the 24-year-old social media producer — Niki Hutchinson — into investing $300,000 in digital assets. Needless to say, she never saw that money again.
love can be painful
Crypto fraudsters are getting more and more creative. When Ze Zhao met Tho Vu at the hinge, he introduced himself as an architect from China who has some work duties in Maryland, USA. After texting her for a while, he started calling her “sweetheart” and promised to meet her with her family in China once the pandemic was over.
Once Zhao realized that his victim had developed a serious crush on him, he changed the topic of conversation to bitcoin and other digital assets. The scammer further claimed that he worked in customer service for a security company and urged the woman to invest her savings in a dubious cryptocurrency exchange. He promised that the investment would help them get married and go on their honeymoon.
“I heard a lot about cryptocurrencies in the news. I’m a curious person and he really knew the whole negotiation process very well,” admitted Vu.
In the following weeks, the victim sent over $300,000 worth of bitcoin (almost all of his life savings) to an account on the Hong Kong trading platform OSL. At first, the platform looked legit and offered 24/7 online customer support.
Shortly after, however, Zhao took advantage of the communication with the victim. Instead of starting a life together, Ms. Vu realized that the money she sent didn’t go to the exchange account, but to the scammer’s digital wallet.
“I thought I knew him. Everything was a lie,” she lamented.
Another Similar Case
According to for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), romance scams resulted in $139 million in losses in 2021, while individuals cheated were over 56,000. Cryptocurrency scams accounted for over 1,800 of these cases. Jane Lee — a researcher at the online fraud prevention firm Sift — presented her arguments for why there is an increase in these scams:
“People are alone with the pandemic, and cryptocurrency is super hot right now, the combination of the two really made this a successful scam.”
One such victim last year was the Tennessee home — Niki Hutchinson. The 24-year-old visited a friend in California when she hooked up in Hinge with a man named Hao. The latter said he works in the fashion industry.
As soon as she returned to Tennessee, the two began exchanging messages on WhatsApp. She told Hao that she was born in China, but later an American family adopted her. The man said he was also Chinese, and he comes from the same province as her. Trying to win her sympathy, he started calling her “sister”, joking that he was her brother.
They even had a video call once where Hao only partially showed his face. “I thought he was shy,” revealed the victim.
Once he understood that Hutchinson had inherited around $300,000, Hao advised her to invest the funds in cryptocurrencies. “Bring some changes into your life and bring some extra income into your life,” he told her at the time.
Convinced by her persuasion, she started sending small amounts of money to a cryptocurrency exchange called ISAC. Eventually, she invested all the funds and even took out a loan to allocate more.
A few months later, Hutchinson tried to withdraw some of the funds, but to no avail. Trying to solve the problem, she sent a message to Hao, who stopped responding to her. At that point, she realized that she had become a victim of a cryptocurrency scam.
The woman currently lives with her father in his trailer — one of the few possessions left. While Hutchinson doesn’t expect to get her funds back, she does hope that her bad experience can set an example for people in the future.
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