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Dating apps used in Japan to target victims in virtual currency investment scams

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SAPPORO -- A spate of fraud cases has been seen across Japan in which scammers have used dating apps to defraud people after convincing them to invest in virtual currencies.

    It is believed such cases have emerged amid an increase in online dating as the spread of coronavirus infections has resulted in fewer face-to-face encounters. With virtual currency transactions remaining difficult to trace, related parties are calling for caution.

    Hokkaido Prefectural Police encountered the first such fraud case in March this year. According to the force's No. 2 investigation division, nine men and women aged from their 30s to their 60s have fallen victim to such scams since March, with the total amount of losses topping 100 million yen (around $886,500). In five of those cases, a dating app was used.

    The tactics used in each of the cases were strikingly similar. Non-Japanese men and women claiming to live in places including Hong Kong and Taiwan, speaking either English or broken Japanese, conversed with the victims through direct messages. It is said that in fraud schemes involving dating apps, there are cases where fraudsters not only elicit romantic feelings from their victims, but listen to their worries to earn trust. They then try to get the victims to hand over money they say will be used for investment in virtual currencies, on the pretense that they can easily make money from such business.

    At first the victims are persuaded to buy around 200,000 yen (about $1770) in a virtual currency such as Bitcoin, and the fraud group, using what is thought to be a fake investment site, makes it appear as if the person has made a profit of around 30-40%. This is repeated several times, and the investment amount is gradually increased. But when the victims say they want to convert their investment back to cash, they are told that to withdraw the money, a large investment is necessary, and the scammers demand an additional 1 million to 2 million yen. Eventually, they sever contact with the victim.

    One investigative source commented, "Even at the stage where people approach police, some victims don't realize they've been swindled. Presumably when people are shown that they're making a small amount of profit, they believe it.

    (Japanese original by Yui Takahashi, Hokkaido News Department)

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