On 9 March 2021, Rachel* – a tax accountant in Auckland – matched with “Wu Haoyu” on Hinge. By 10 June, and one elaborate crypto-scam later, Rachel’s savings account was $100k lighter.
The scam that Rachel fell victim to is relatively new to Aotearoa – appearing for the first-time last year. Called a “hybrid scam”, this grift uses a combination of romance and investment to target millennials and can be incredibly effective at extracting huge sums of money.
In light of Fraud Awareness Week, the Consume This podcast explores how this dangerous new scam operates and how it targets unsuspecting victims.
“There’s a perception that scams are reserved for the elderly or those who are totally gullible. In New Zealand, the largest reported losses are from those in the 30- to 45-year-old age bracket. We can expect for more New Zealanders to be targeted in the same way as Rachel,” Consumer NZ chief executive Jon Duffy said.
"There are certain behaviours to be aware of when on dating sites. This includes conversation being moved off dating platforms to text messaging, being sent links to 'investment' sites and encouragement to dabble in investing for fun."
Rachel and Haoyu matched and soon moved their chat to WhatsApp. Scammers do this to avoid losing their targets, as dating apps have algorithms that are designed to pick up scam trends and actively remove scam profiles.
They chatted at length with Haoyu mentioning he was into bitcoin trading, but weeks passed before he persuaded Rachel to try trading for herself. Haoyu sent her a link to his trading app. Unfortunately, it was all a lie. This large-scale scam included everything from a fake Forex mirror app to customer service reps that answered every question Rachel had.
Her investments began small, but Rachel rapidly found she was in over her head.
In a matter of weeks, she’d sunk $100k into what she had perceived was a legitimate investment platform – but then found she was unable to withdraw her funds.
It quickly dawned on Rachel that she’d been scammed. Despite “feeling stupid” for falling for this bogus scheme, she was happy to share her story on the Consume This podcast to help warn off other potential scam victims.
"This new dating scam involves many moving parts. The scammers take their time to build trust, there are fake investment sites, call centres and elaborate identities created. For example, ‘Haoyu’ had over 100 fake contacts on LinkedIn, one of which verified to Rachel that he was legitimate," Duffy said.
“If you’re concerned that you've been scammed, cease communication with the suspected scammer immediately. If you've transferred money – alert your bank and report it to the police and Financial Markets Authority,” Duffy said.
Rachel shares her story in episode four of the Consume This podcast, brought to you by Consumer NZ.
*Rachel's name has been changed to protect her identity.