The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted almost every single aspect of life. Since the physical contact between humans had to be reduced to a minimum, love dates and romantic activities became increasingly popular on dating applications. And while some people found their soulmates online, others turned into victims of cryptocurrency scammers who drained a significant chunk of their savings.
One such example is the 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 started planning their wedding and honeymoon. Unfortunately for Ms. Vu, the man pretended to love her and reportedly drained $300,000 worth of bitcoin from her.
In a separate case on WhatsApp, another scammer lured the 24-year-old social media producer – Niki Hutchinson – to invest $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 on Hinge, he introduced himself as an architect from China who has some work duties in Maryland, the USA. After texting for a while, he started calling her “little sweetheart” and promised to meet her with his family in China once the pandemic was over.
As soon as Zhao realized that his victim had developed a serious crush on him, he changed the topic of conversation into bitcoin and other digital assets. The scammer further asserted that he worked in customer service for a security company and urged the woman to invest her savings in a dubious crypto exchange. He promised that the investment would help them get married and go on a honeymoon.
“I’d heard a lot about crypto in the news. I’m a curious person, and he actually was very knowledgeable about the whole trading process,” Vu admitted.
In the following weeks, the victim sent over $300K worth of bitcoin (almost her entire life savings) to an account on the Hong Kong trading venue OSL. At first, the platform looked legitimate and provided 24/7 online customer support.
Shortly after, though, Mr. Zhao seized communication with the victim. Instead of starting a life together, Ms. Vu realized that the money she sent did not go into the exchange account but to the scammer’s digital wallet.
“I thought I knew him. Everything was a lie,” she regretted.
Another Similar Case
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), romance scams resulted in $139 million in losses in 2021, while the conned individuals were more than 56,000. Cryptocurrency frauds accounted for more than 1,800 of those cases. Jane Lee – a researcher at the online fraud-prevention firm Sift – gave her arguments why there is an increase in such scams:
“People are lonely from the pandemic, and crypto is super hot right now, The combination of the two has really made this a successful scam.”
One of those victims last year was the Tennessee residence – Niki Hutchinson. The 24-year-old visited a friend in California when she matched on Hinge with a man called Hao. The latter said he works in the fashion industry.
Once she returned to Tennesse, the two started messaging on WhatsApp. She told Hao that she was born in China, but later an American family adopted her. The man said he was Chinese, too, and he comes from the same province as her. Attempting to win her sympathy, he began calling her “sister,” joking that he was her brother.
They even had a video call once, where Hao only partly showed his face. “I thought he was shy,” the victim revealed.
Once he understood that Hutchinson had inherited around $300,000, Hao advised her to invest the funds in cryptocurrencies. “Bring some changes to your life and bring an extra income to your life,” he told her at the time.
Convinced by his persuasiveness, she started sending small amounts of the money into a crypto 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. Attempting to resolve the issue, she messaged Hao, who stopped replying to her. At that point, she realized she had become a victim of a fraudulent cryptocurrency scheme.
The woman currently lives with her father in their R.V. – one of the few assets they have left. While Hutchinson doesn’t expect to get her funds back, she hopes her bad experience could serve as an example for people in the future.