Massachusetts woman wooed into losing $2.5M in growing online romance scam

First of two parts

Cindy Tsai had her stomach removed in January 2021 after being diagnosed with stomach cancer seven months earlier. Her 16-year-old husband, whom she had not seen in person for three months prior to her diagnosis, had also decided to end the marriage from his Vancouver home and never came to visit as she was undergoing chemotherapy. The cancer came back in September 2021.

In other words, when “Jimmy” first messaged her on WhatsApp on Oct. 15, 2021, she was going through “the most vulnerable time I’ve ever known in my life.”

“Jimmy” asked her if she was Linda from the pet store. You have the wrong number, she said. But she looks Chinese, he told her, and he’s Chinese too. The revelation of this common origin – established by their small icons on the app – sparked what seemed like constant messaging and a relationship began to take shape.

From playful selfies to magazine-worthy photos of food said to have been cooked at home, Jimmy practically opened up to Tsai, and she thought she’d found a new friend who would always be there for her in times of need.

As Tsai, a Newton-based attorney, would slowly realize over the course of her three-month online relationship with Jimmy — in which she said she lost $2.5 million — she was one of the 415 romance and trust fraud victims in the Year was 2021 in Massachusetts, accordingly recently released FBI data. The Bay State suffered the 11th highest rate of internet-related fraud, despite being the 15th most populous state in the 2020 census, losing a total of $21.8 million from this type of fraud alone. About 24,300 people nationwide reported losing $956 million to online trust fraud.

“These scams differ from others in that the perpetrator takes advantage of the ‘victim’s heart,'” FBI spokeswoman Kristen Setera told the Herald. “A trust/love scam occurs when a person fools a victim into believing that they have a trusting relationship, whether it be family, friendship, or romance. This tricks the victim into sending money, personal and financial information, or anything of value to the abuser.”

The FBI is unable to speak about specific cases under investigation, Setera said, or even to confirm or deny whether a specific case like Tsai’s is even under investigation. However, the Boston office of the office where Setera works confirmed that 625 victims in their Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island jurisdiction lost a total of $27,718,186 to the scams.

The youngest person to plead guilty to involvement in online love affairs in federal court in Massachusetts was Mike Oziegbe Amiegbe, a Nigerian living in Dorchester. He pleaded guilty on Feb. 16 to charges of conspiracy to mail fraud, a scheme in which federal authorities say he admitted using false online identities to gain victims’ trust and fined them at least $550,000 deceive.

Tsai had heard of Nigerian scammers before and is not the type to fall for random strangers. She said that prior to her illness, she never opened random WhatsApp messages and that she doesn’t even confirm Facebook friend requests.

A hard worker, she says she was doing 100,000 business miles a year before COVID struck, and being naturally a bit risk averse, she kept her investments on the safe side. She said she’s gotten rich “just on returns from (her) real estate investments in the last few years.” She didn’t really think she had time for Jimmy, she said, and over the course of the first evening kept telling him she wanted to sign off.

But that barrier broke down. Jimmy was sweet and offered her a lot of emotional support. He told her to drive carefully and wear her seat belt when going on a drive and would look for results from her recent cancer treatments – she said her cancer continued to surface and had become fatal – and loved being long-time involved chats about everything.

“This innocent stuff lasted about 10 days,” she said, later adding, “That’s the scary thing about these scams, it’s that they’re very patient.”

After this 10th day, however, the conversation turned to business. He claimed to have moved to the US from China as his family is in the clothing business, but shortly after they opened a store in Los Angeles, the pandemic struck and they were forced to close. He told her he now spends his time trading cryptocurrencies online, something he went on to tell her was lucrative and a much better return than her real estate holdings.

Setera said the FBI is seeing an “increasing trend” in romance scammers using the allure of “substantial gains” from cryptocurrency, a type of multi-target investment novel that “will never really materialize.”

Messages between “Jimmy” who writes in Chinese to Cindy Tsai. (Courtesy of Cindy Tsai)

Tsai resisted, but he made it very appealing with screenshots of his alleged crypto returns — she said she’s also read about gurus like Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and billionaire Elon Musk who were all-in on crypto back then — well her resistance broke down again.

He introduced her to an online trading market that was actually a fake facade using a very similar name and resembled a legitimate website. For the first few days, she was allowed to withdraw money, all a ploy to convince her it was real. Jimmy even agreed to a video chat, which she said helped allay her “red flag” suspicions.

But by the time it was all over, she had lost $2.5 million through all sorts of trust tricks that made it look like Jimmy was helping her budding crypto success by giving her “loans” and the like on the fake platform.

Tsai was a victim of what the Global Anti-Scam Organization, a volunteer-led advocacy and awareness-raising group founded by another victim in June 2021, calls a “pig slaughter” scam, a term long used by a Chinese-language slang term Term was derived disadvantages like this. The more than 500 volunteers in the group are said to have lost an average of nearly $100,000 per person.

Tsai fits the profile What the group says is a scammer’s perfect target: a relatively young, educated, and successful person who is at a certain point in their life where they may be more susceptible to the kinds of kind words, attention, and courtship they come across which these scammers specialize in.

Tsai has teamed up with the group, which hopes to educate and educate the world about the growing trend of these scams originated by agents in Southeast Asia, and offers a 24/7 support chat platform on its website for those starting a new online – “Friend” are suspicious. or who have already been victims.

“Our stories are grossly undervalued in the media,” a spokeswoman for the group wrote, “even though these scams are likely wreaking economic havoc on a similar scale to the recent wave of ransomware cybercrime.”

Tomorrow: Part II on how to avoid scams.

Chelsea, MA – April 6: The FBI building on April 6, 2022 in Chelsea, Massachusetts. (Staff photo by Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald)

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