‘Samantha’, a divorcee in her 50s from Malaysia, fell for a pig butchering scam – a mash-up of romance and investment schemes run by Asia-based online scam syndicates. Among all the strange messages flooding into her Instagram chat, this one caught her attention: “You remind me of one of my teachers. I miss her very much.” After a brief conversation on Instagram, scammers – posing as an attractive young man from China – suggested moving the chat to the instant messaging platform LINE. When asked how it was possible to fall in love so quickly without having met the person in real life, Samantha said “it’s like going back to the days when we had penpals, the thing called letters”. The scammers cooked up details of everyday life to make her believe that she was falling in love with ‘a real person’. They then tricked Samantha into investing on a fake cryptocurrency platform in order to ‘build a future together’ – while asking her to keep their relationship a secret, promising to get together once the pandemic is over. Within months, Samantha lost about US$20,000. Looking back, Samantha said there were red flags that she should not have ignored. These are the lessons she’s learnt.

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