As online dating becomes the most popular way for people in every country to find relationships, the scourge of online romance scammers or fraudsters is only something stumbled upon by those using online dating sites or social media.
Thailand has long had a serious problem with the menace as the country has had a huge take up in online dating in the last two decades including up to a million foreigners and Thai women who have found long term love and marriage together. Last year, Thai police stepped up their operations against the online scammers as the scale of the losses suffered by Thai women online had become an alarming problem.
It became a priority of Thailand’s top cop, Police Lieutenant General Surchate Hapkarn, who established not only the scale of the criminal activity but its links to Africa and in particular Nigerian nationals. Thai police also uncovered links between this criminal activity, drug crime, prostitution and immigration law abuses allowing the scammer gangs to enter and leave Thailand easily.
There is some light at the end of the tunnel in the fight against the evil and menace of online love scammers. Thai police this week arrested six more suspects including 5 Thai nationals and a Nigerian who conned victims out of ฿2.5 million. Up to recent years, these international gangs, many operating from African and in particular Nigeria, pressed ahead with their conspiracies with virtual impunity.
In Thailand at least, all this has changed as a huge crackdown on the fraudsters took hold last year and culminated at the end of January with a raid in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur in which Thailand’s leading cop Lieutenant General Surchate Hapkarn was on hand to see 14 arrested including 7 Nigerians and 7 Thai women while simultaneous raids took place in Thailand. Last year also saw renewed efforts from US authorities and the FBI. Despite this, the response in the United Kingdom and Europe and other western countries has been less robust as definite links have emerged between illegal migration abuses and the nefarious trade.
Police Lieutenant Surachate Hapkarn, the Head of Thailand’s Immigration Bureau and Deputy Chief of the Thai Police Action Taskforce for Information Technology Crime Suppression, arrives in Kuala Lumpur at the end of last month to be on hand as police raided seven locations in Malaysia’s capital city and arrested seven Nigerian nationals as well seven Thai women. Simultaneous raids occurred in Thailand.
The gang had duped Thai women to part with up to ฿100 million in a one year period according to the police man known affectionately in Thailand as ‘Big Joke.’ This week, Thai police arrested six people also for crimes related to online romance scams after Thai women lost ฿2.5 million. Five were Thai nationals while one was a Nigerian. 3 Nigerian men had escaped the police drag net. The move come as Thailand’s immigration police have increasingly seen a link between illegal immigration, immigration abuses and the activities of the romance scam gangs.
The online scammers have also been linked to drug crime and prostitution in Thailand. Although police operations have been ongoing against them for a number of years, the last year has seen the threat diminished in Thailand and the scammers on the back foot. Thailand’s robust police action is an example for other countries worldwide.
Thai police and authorities have waged perhaps the most effective war anywhere in the world against the menace of online scammers who target both Thai women seeking love on dating and social network sites and foreigners outside Thailand. This week alone saw Immigration chief Police Lieutenant General Surachate Hapkarn reveal that police in Thailand had apprehended a further six individuals associated with this criminal activity in recent days. The gang arrested had successful lured online victims into parting with ฿2.5 million.
Africa and particularly Nigeria linked to online dating scammers in Thailand and worldwide
Police in Thailand have long associated this criminal activity with nationals from Africa but particularly Nigeria. So much so that one human rights agency last year warned and urged Thai police to make sure that they were not engaged profiling. However, it is becoming clear worldwide that this huge criminal enterprise, which in recent years the FBI has indicated could be as lucrative as the drugs business is linked to both crime gangs in Nigeria and Africa as well as international illegal migration from Africa to countries around the world.
US Department of Justice reports on the scale of online fraud and romance scam rackets increasingly linked to illegal migration
The links of the activity to Nigeria in particular can also be traced to elaborate crime networks and mafia organisations in that country. The US Department of Justice has recently published alarming reports on the scale of the threat being posed. They have established links between a range of online fraudulent activities such as BEC, which stands for Business Email Compromise attacks and online romance scamming also linking it to gangs engaged in extensive money laundering operations. The gangs have been reported through FBI communiques, to be also cooperating with mafia and criminal network in eastern Europe. They are then recruiting African nationals migrating throughout the world as foot soldiers. The links between the criminal gangs and romance scamming online is not being openly reported by many western police forces because it is more and more linked to illegal international migration. The subject has become a sensitive issue in the light of the world migrant crisis and political reaction to it, particularly in Europe.
Huge crackdown on Thailand in 2018 shines a light on the activities of the online love fraudsters as they target Thai women and foreign men
The police crackdown in Thailand is shining a light on the nefarious activities of these actors who attack people online when they are most vulnerable and destroy human trust and goodwill. They strike their victims when they are lonely and seeking love. It is an abominable crime and can have traumatic and devastating consequences for its victims.
For the record and to be open, we should point out that this news website is part of a company that owns a leading international Thai dating website ThaiLoveLines which competes with other international dating sites such as Thai Cupid, Thai Friendly and even social media giant Facebook in this market. The Operations Director of ThaiLoveLines is Mr Joseph O’ Connor.
He explains the problem from one point of view: ‘We have identified this problem since we began operations in 2005 as the single biggest threat we are facing. There is a definite link between the migration of African nationals and the spread of this threat. We now notice servers being used from Hong Kong, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and all European and Western countries. Most worryingly, the United States has also become a base to these actors to further their criminal enterprises. We have long ago barred access to many groups from Africa. The best solution to the problem is to make users and people online more aware of the risk and its exact nature. I think this means giving them the full unvarnished facts and not simply injunctions to do this or that. Everyone knows that you should never send money to a person online no matter what the reason is but people must be thought to understand the nuances and depth of this activity as online dating becomes not only the most popular way to find new relationships at his time but also the medium that has produced most successful relationships since people began recording the industry decades ago.’
Thai women particularly vulnerable as FBI identifies a 136% leap in online scams from December 2016 to May 2018 in predatory activity by scammers
The problem in Thailand has been more acute up to recently because of the nature, culture and psychology of Thai women which make them particularly vulnerable to these attacks. The US Justice Department, in recent reports, have linked the online romance scam racket to Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa. The range of scams run from property hoaxes to romance scamming and the use of fake emails to lure business customers into parting with substantial amounts of money. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center said in statement last July that from December 2016 to May 2018 the scale of losses suffered by victims had increased by 136%. The level of losses in 2016 was even at that point such that US crime fighting agencies warned that this trade was potentially even a more lucrative than the international drugs trade.
Romance scam gangs linked to drugs and prostitution rackets in Thailand as crooks use money
Police in Thailand last year also linked the activities of the romance scamming gangs to the financing and execution of drugs related criminal activity and even prostitution were the Africans were trafficking prostitutes from Africa into Thailand. The effectiveness of the crackdown launched by Thai police since then cannot be denied but it must be seen in the context of this criminal activity throughout the world mushrooming and other police forces not being as active as those in Thailand or perhaps the United States or even Australia in combating it at source.
FBI source identifies ‘gambling’ mentality of some victims of online dating scams as a factor
One FBI source has described the mentality of the victims of online romance crime online as having a similar mentality to a gambler. ‘It’s a tough problem. The victims I’ve spoken with have a gambler’s mentality. Deep down they know it’s a scam, but if they cut off the communication they know they’ll never see the money the scammer supposedly borrowed from them. Better to keep playing, hoping their luck will change,’ he was reported as saying by Forbes magazine in a recent report.
However the victims should also be made aware that according to FBI data and intelligence many of those who have been victims are also later liable to become the targets for other scams and even re approached by actors online who have not yet been already arrested by authorities.
Thai women over 40 are the key target for online African scam gangs posing as wealthy western lovers and offering promises of a better life
In Thailand, the most vulnerable parties to the online scam racket are women who are over 40. In the last decade, the numbers of middle class and well off Thai women in this age group has also shot up as Thai women, following an Asian and indeed worldwide trend, in pursuing careers are not yet content to marry Thai men with less income or status. Then there is the unique Thai susceptibility to gambling which makes the Thai lotteries the national past time and it is easy to see why many unfortunate women are snared by the African criminal gangs. The problem may be easing somewhat today in Thailand as the word gets out and the Thai police, led by Police Lieutenant General Surachate Hapkarn, Head of Thailand’s Immigration Police and Deputy Director of a task force targeting online crime, continues to publicize and provide comprehensive information on each series of arrests including the background and organisation structures of the actors and the gangs involved, to the public.
Six arrested in Thailand this week. One Nigerian and five Thai nationals acting as accomplices, three Nigerians escaped the police net in 5 provinces
The six people arrested this week in Thailand included five Thai nationals. One of the key and disturbing patterns in the ongoing crackdown is that Nigerian men have been able to coax Thai women in to assisting them to help deceive some of the Thai women who falls victims to the conspiracies.
The Thai women accomplices also manage banks accounts and the transfer of funds received. Some of those arrested this week were found to have withdrawn amounts from Thai ATM machines and opened bank accounts where victims subsequently deposited money. The provinces involved in the arrests just announced are Bangkok, Nonthaburi, Rayong, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Sakon Nakhon. It has been reported that three further Nigerian suspects escaped the clutches of Thai police after they left the kingdom. The Nigerian national apprehended by Thai police was traced through a Facebook photo online.
Thai police link abuses to immigration law in Thailand to activities of online scammer gangs preying on Thai women in the Kingdom
Another key facet on the ongoing crackdown is the link between immigration abuses and the activities of the online scamming gangs. One of the Nigerian suspects in the current investigation that led to the arrest this week is reported to have obtained a Guardian visa in Thailand. A Guardian visa is a Non Immigrant O type visa. It is available to a foreign parent or guardian of a Thai child or minor meaning that the Thai child is under 20 yeas of age. It can also be made available to a foreign national who has a minor child with similar specifics enrolled and legally studying at an approved Thai educational institution. The visa requires the foreign national to maintain ฿500,000 in a Thai bank account. It can be renewed or extended within 21 day of expiry for periods of up to one year. The Immigration Police Commissioner Lieutenant General Hapkarn is reported to have already stepped up inquiries into brokers or middle men who might be assisting these criminal type in their nefarious activities in Thailand.
Thai police arrest fake immigration stamp suspects
Thai police have been taken aback in the crackdown on online romance scams at the involvement of so many Nigerian nationals ordinarily resident in Thailand. The ongoing investigations has also linked the online scammers to widespread abuses discovered in the immigration process involving Nigerian nationals. These are being identified and robustly rooted out. It should be noted, however, that not all Nigerians living, studying or working in Thailand are linked to criminality although the numbers compared to the population are significant but firmly still a minority. At the end of January, Immigration police in Thailand arrested a number of suspects involved with the provision fake stamps on passports for immigration purposes. The arrests were revealed in a Thai news press briefing on January 26th personally by Lieutenant General Hapkarn.
Cameroon woman arrested with fake immigration stamp led Thai Immigration bureau to a corrupt groups of its own officers who were exposed
At the press conference at the end of January, it was revealed that the Immigration Bureau had, in fact, arrested three of its own officers, some holding responsible positions, ranging in age from 31 to 47 years. They were arrested with two Thai nationals and a 34 year old Nigerian named as Victor Adeola. The two Thai nationals were acting as middlemen. The arrests resulted from police inquiries relating to one of the Thai Immigration regular sweeps targeting illegal foreigners in Thailand overnight. A 34 year old woman from Cameroon was found living in a premises in Southern Thailand. The woman was found to have illegally entered Thailand and had a fake stamp on her passport.
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Middle men befriended Thai police officer at busy Thai Malaysian border checkpoint crossing
A thorough police investigation ensued. Immigration boss Lieutenant General Hapkarn, also known affectionately in Thailand as ‘Big Joke’, briefed the media. The police chief told the press that the two Thai middle men would contact one of the police officers after they had collected fees from the foreign nationals they were assisting. The police officer would then pass on instructions to two Immigration police officers stationed at Bangkok’s Subharnabhumi Airport. The two Thai middle men had come to know the first police officer from regular visits to a busy immigration checkpoint in Songkhla bordering Malaysia at Sadao. Thai police had discovered very strong links between romance scamming activities in Thailand and Malaysia where the hub of the gangs is thought to exist.
2018 was the year Thai police got a grip on African romance scamming gangs and their workings
The Thai Immigration Bureau boss went on to reveal that the breakthrough had quickly led to the arrest of five other African nationals living in Thailand illegally, three from Nigeria, one from Ivory Coast and one from South Africa. Last year, the activities of the Thai Immigration Police drew a warning from Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission when it was revealed Thai police were reviewing all Nigerian resident in Thailand thought to be approximately 1,400 when the numbers of Nigerians arrested by Thai police reached a significant but still minority proportion of the numbers thought to be living in Thailand at that time. Last year was the year when Thai police deeply disrupted the romance scam criminal gangs and began to get a deeper insight into their activities revealing he scale of the scamming networks operating in Thailand but controlled from countries outside Thailand particularly in Africa.
Thai academic published video showing African scammers engaging in rituals with the computer laptops to give them power over Thai women
A the height of the coverage last year, one Thai academic produced a video to advise Thai women of the enormity of the threat. The video was produced using the Thai language. He showed video clips which he claimed were Africans involved in romance scams using black magic or other religious rituals using their notebook computers in order to assist them in their efforts to control the Thai women they were seeking to prey upon. In the United States, the US Department of Justice is probably in the best position to identify the worldwide threat behind these activities, much of which emanates from one country, Nigeria.
Malaysian gang targeting Thailand was led by Christian pastor as gangs celebrated their wealth
Many of the international gangs are involved in romance or dating scams online but they also engage in email fraud targeting well off businesses or individuals. They adapt their tactics according to the nature of the target to prey upon. Many of the Nigerian fraudsters can be seen on social media platforms like Facebook boasting about their exploits and their affluent lifestyle. It is reported that after a string of big scores, many scamming groups take holidays. In fact, many of the scammers targeting Thailand from Malaysia notably celebrate Christmas as, up to recent times, a key ringleader in one criminal operation was a Christian pastor. This is an extensive criminal network with members who cooperate and engage with each other in deals and counter deals.
US Department of Justice and FBI has upped its game against the online fraudster and love scammers since last year with more extradition requests
Up to a number of years ago, many of these actors carried out their sick enterprise with impunity. Often victims of the scams are reluctant to report to police authorities that they had been scammed at all. This has certainly changed in Thailand but also in the United States where the US Department of Justice and the FBI have launched campaigns against the online scammers. Many of the perpetrators now face extradition requests to the United States where prison sentences and punishments for online fraud are more severe.
In June last year, the US Justice Department revealed that some of the online romance scammers had moved their business away from romance scams to targeting wealthy business with BEC (Business Email Compromise) attacks or using false emails to mislead key corporate officials into wiring money or allowing access to banks facilities in order to make illegal transfers.
Big Joke takes the dating scam fight to Malaysia
At the same time as the crackdown on fake passport stamps and the arrest of a nest of Thai immigration officers assisting illegals, the Immigration Bureau boss, ‘Big Joke’ Lieutenant General Surachate Hapkarn also took the fight against romance scammers targeting Thailand to a whole new level. On January 25th, it was announced that he had traveled in Malaysia in plain clothes with associates to work with Malaysian police as they raided a Nigerian gang that had moved from Thailand to Kuala Lumpur last year.
Coordinated raids on 10 locations in Thailand and Malaysia saw Nigerians and their Thai accomplices arrested for online fraud
The police boss was reported as undertaking this role as the Deputy Director of Thailand’s Action Taskforce for Information Technology Crime Suppression. The Thai policemen was on hand as Malaysian police raided no less than seven locations in the Malaysian capital. Seven Nigerian nationals were taken into custody together with seven Thai women who were acting as accomplices to the crimes committed. At the same time, the Thai police raided three locations in Thailand associated with the online dating fraud gang. All the seven Nigerian were already wanted by Thai authorities for being involved in criminals and fraudulent activities in the kingdom.
Treasure trove of evidence showing chat messages, emails showing some duped romance scam victims about to transfer money
Thai police, with the assistance of their Malaysian counterparts, discovered a treasure trove of evidence following the raids which caught the Nigerian scammers off guard. Malaysian police seized computers and mobile phones from the scenes. Many of them showed emails and chat messages where unfortunate and love struck targets of the gang were on the verge of transferring money to the romance scam gang’s accounts. This gang would have been targeting both Thai women with fake foreigner profiles on dating sites and social networks and at the same time, their accomplices would have been posing as pliant Thai women in Thailand to ensnare foreigners looking for love and happiness in Thailand. The Thai women online in Thailand would have been targeted by the gang posing as wealthy, western foreigners with talk of substantial investments in Thailand or gifts.
Creative and highly effective stings used by the online fraud gangs to scam victims
The extent of the scams, their creativity and flawless execution has fooled many over the last few decades. The gangs often employ their Thai accomplices to phone the Thai women who are the preying upon, to mislead them posing as friends of the fake profile online or even as Thai government employees to convince the women that the entrapment story is real.
Gang netted ฿100 million in one year targeting Thailand from Malaysia with their online love scams
Astonishingly, Lieutenant General Hapkarn revealed after the raids, that this gang of seven Nigerians and their Thai girlfriends had defrauded victims of up to ฿100 million or $3.2 million in cash in a one year period. Police discovered that three of the Nigerians had fake accounts on Facebook, Thailand’s most popular social network where Bangkok is the most connected city in the world. Police revealed that one unfortunate Thai woman had sent one Nigerian man ฿29 million baht or nearly $921,000. The scale of the romance scamming enterprise and the trusting, accepting nature of Thai women has shocked many in Thailand not least the Thai police.
Police response to online love scams in Thailand is more robust and effective than in many western countries because of different jurisprudence
Aside from the United States, the response from policing authorities in other western countries has not been as forceful. In fact, the link between a laxity in immigration law enforcement against illegal migration in those countries and the response to the online scamming activity is notable. However, it should be noted that the UK and Europe operate under a different legal jurisdiction firmly molded in recent years by European law and jurisprudence which gives stronger weight to UN directives and legal principles. The robust and effective response from Thailand’s police compares very favorably to a recent news and media report from Northern Ireland, the northern part of Ireland that remains under UK rule and has its own regional police force. Prior to Valentine’s Day, Chief Superintendent Simon Walls of the PSNI or Police Service of Northern Ireland reported that there are had been 39 reports to the police in the area within 9 months in relation to internet love scams from January 1st 2018 to September 30th 2018. The story was reported by the highly respected Irish Times newspaper in Dublin. The reported loss to those involved was £218,000 or nearly ฿9,000,000. Northern Ireland has a population of 1.9 million compared to Thailand’s 69 million.
Two women from Irish counties Down and Armagh tricked by romance scammers online out of £105,000
The Irish policeman revealed that two Northern Irish women in the counties of Armagh and Down had recently lost £110,000 to the online scammers or ฿4,431,000 in the days up to St Valentines day. It was the same old story: ‘While these are alarming statistics we believe romance scams are significantly under reported. We think many people are simply too embarrassed to tell us they have been scammed in a romance fraud,’ Chief Superintendent Walls said. ‘In both of the cases reported to us in the last fortnight, both women were tricked by fraudsters. They had been befriended by two men online who duped them into sending substantial amounts of money.’
Ironically, the vulnerability of Irish women and indeed men in Northern Ireland to the fraudsters is caused by the same social changes that have seen less women over 40 married with love partners as in Thailand. And the people behind the racket are the same. The African and Nigerian fraudsters.
Irish women tricked by same tactics as Thai women
The Irish police officer revealed that one woman had sent £65,000 or ฿2,620,000 to a man online who portrayed himself as a member of the US armed services. They had been conversing fr well over a month until she was told that he was being detained by authorities in Africa. It is a common story often using airports and convincing third party phone calls to lure the victim into an immediate drama where they lose their sense of judgment such is their newly empathy for the newly found but alas, bogus online lover. The other woman from county of Down in Northern Ireland sent £45,000 or ฿1,814,000 to another online personality holding himself out as an engineer, another favorite work occupation for the Nigerian scammers who often enhance the bogus profile with a young son or daughter to increase empathy among their female prey. The money was for engineering projects.
Buyer Beware: Police chief in Northern Ireland placed the responsibility firmly on the online users saying the money was handed over voluntary
The Northern Irish police chief police however had bad news from his victims or any other potential victims of the African gangs. He indicated that money given to such crooks was given voluntary and was difficult to recover. The Irish police officer also indicated that the online users should select their dating or social network platforms more carefully. In Thailand, it is being reported that Facebook is now the new target for these actors as established international dating sites in Thailand employ security systems specifically to address the threat. He also pointed out that the targets of the fraudsters were not specific. Chief Superintendent Walls said that ‘romance scammers don’t prey on a specific gender, sexuality, race or age.’ The scammers target everyone, he claimed.
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