Dating sites put love on the line

Pol Maj Gen Thitiwat Suriyachai, commander of the Cyber Crime Investigation Division 4
Pol Maj Gen Thitiwat Suriyachai, commander of the Cyber Crime Investigation Division 4

Women have been warned against so-called romance scams or online dating fraud which have cost victims millions of baht, a seminar was told.

Pol Maj Gen Thitawat Suriyachai, commander of Cyber Crime Investigation Division 4, said many of these romance scams are operated by call-centre gangs who create fake profiles on dating apps.

They appear to be profiles of good-looking, educated and successful men with well-paying careers and privileged backgrounds.

He said the perpetrators convince their victims to invest in Ponzi schemes and then disappear.

The number of cases reported between March and September was nearly 900, with the total sum lost to the fraud estimated to be 200-300 million baht, he said.

Keep personal data secret

“When meeting people from online dating apps, do not reveal your personal information and do not transfer your money to anyone you don’t know or whose information you cannot verify,” said Pol Maj Gen Thitawat.

He said scammers will approach victims via social media such as Facebook or Line applications and share fictitious stories.

Once the scammers acquire victims’ personal information such as age and occupation, they will find weak spots and exploit the relationship they have developed for financial gain.

”Most of the victims are single, divorced or widowed people looking for companionship.

“Some are particularly vulnerable as they post much of their personal life on social media or dating apps,” said Pol Maj Gen Thitawat.

He suggested victims collect their chat history and proof of transactions to use as evidence when they file a report to the police.

Pol Maj Gen Thitawat was speaking at a seminar hosted by the Friends of Women Foundation, a non-profit organisation set up to identify victims of fraud and other types of crime in deprived communities and provide training in business skills to help them find avenues to economic empowerment.

It was held following the mid-October arrest of a man who sexually harassed and murdered a woman he met on a dating app.

He then fled to the southern province of Phatthalung before the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) caught him with another woman he was also found to have beaten.

The new victim who identified herself as Noei told CSD officers that they had chatted on another dating app for a month before she took the train from Lamphun province in the North to see him in Phatthalung.

She was later held against her will and beaten by the man who also took drugs.

It is often reported that users of online dating apps experience indecent behaviour from people they match with.

Some feel uncomfortable when they meet people on dating apps and one in three claims to have been sexually harassed when out on a date.

Cyber safety needs teaching

Dr Panpimol Wipulakorn, psychiatrist and former director-general of the Department of Health, said many women do not feel comfortable rejecting men, and many of the perpetrators prey on this trait for personal gain.

”Many victims are soon suspicious and sense danger; however they cannot leave the relationships and end up being abused,” she said.

Dr Panpimol added that cyber safety should be taught to people of all ages, as both children and adults can be victims of online romance crime.

Also, there should be more online resources for women to gain help and break out from abusive relationships, she said.

Another speaker, Uthaiwan Jamsutee, director of the Child Rights Protection and Family Centre of the Attorney General Office, said online crimes of this nature violate both the Computer Crime Act and Criminal Code.

She said that on Jan 23, 2023, a recently-passed act on measures to prevent repeat sexual or violent criminal offences will take effect.

According to the Justice Ministry, more than 50% of criminals committing violent or sexual offences repeat the crimes within three years. The act is being introduced to curb the recidivism, said Ms Uthaiwan.

Bright future?

Chongcharoen Sornkaew, vice president of the Thai Women’s Network in Europe, said many Thai women try to form a match with foreign men online to improve their quality of life or relocate to improve their financial situation.

However, many experience difficulties maintaining relationships with foreign partners and some fail to adapt to new, unfamiliar environments.

Ms Chongcharoen said many Thai women parade their marriages with foreign men on social media, claiming they can support their parents and subsidise their children’s education.

“However, the stories shared in social media are not always real and can make those women who believe them more vulnerable,” she said.

Ms Chongcharoen added that online help should be swift and there is a need for physical shelters for them to seek refuge from violent men.