The pandemic has made it harder for lovers to meet in person, but easier for scammers to bait the emotionally vulnerable.

Throughout Asia on a Sunday, people celebrated Valentine’s Day. With Valentine’s Day falling on the third day of the Lunar New Year and on a Sunday, it was expected that lovers would splurge on their partners. The question is what would they spend on?

In Manila, a dozen roses were selling for US$25. The vendors at the stalls in Dangwa Flower Market stated that people were ordering online rather than visiting the shops personally due to the pandemic. In Singapore, the same dozen roses can go for as much as US$65–US$170.

According to a study by the iPrice Group, a private e-commerce aggregator, google searches for roses and flowers had experienced an increase of 123% and 83% respectively, across the Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Malaysia in 2020. Searches for chocolates and bouquets had increased as well, by 50% and 49% respectively. Scented candles also had a 236% surge, while lingerie also had an increase of 82%.

With pandemic containment measures limiting the movements of people, care packages were recorded to have the biggest surge in searches, reaching 238%. Overall, there was a 57% increase in searches on romantic gifts during the pandemic.

Rise of the dating scams

Between February 2020 and January 2021, the group also saw an increase in searches in each country’s top 5 dating apps. As a result, more dating apps have been emerging lately.

Taiwan claimed the top spot with a 194% surge in dating apps. The Philippines came in at number three, right after Malaysia, with an increase of 38% in searches for dating apps in the mobile app stores.

Riding on the surges online gifting and dating were internet scams. Lonesome and/or emotionally vulnerable people on social platforms or dating apps were falling for the oldest trick in the book: Send money now and avail of the goods later.

In the 1999 film “She’s All That,” Freddie Prinze, Jr  tells Rachel Leigh Cook: “When you open yourself up to people, you open yourself up to the good and the bad. That’s all this is.”

Romancing the vulnerable

One technique for scam people is ‘Romance Baiting’ whereby the scammer starts a chat that continues into an online relationship. From there, the victim will be asked to put money into an investment opportunity. From little amounts to larger ones, it will continue—until the victim’s resources are drained. That is when the scammer also disappears for good.

Another technique is ‘Love Bombing’, where a scammer bombards the victim with professions of love, in order to gain enough trust and therefore financial benefits. With pandemic restrictions in force, scammers now have a valid excuse to not agree to a meet-up, making their job easier. Some fraudsters will then claim to have a personal health or other emergency in order to inveigle their prey to send money.

Watch your wallet!

Data from the US Federal Trade Commission shows that in 2020, people lost as much as US$304 million in scams. Victims aged 20 to 29 were the most vulnerable to romance scams, but it was those over 70 who reported losing the most money.

The individual median losses in such love scams at stood at US$9,475. In Australia, the love scam bounty was A$37m. In Singapore, victims not only lost their life savings, but were pulled into money laundering schemes that could land them in jail.

The world will always welcome lovers—those who are loved in return, and those still trying their best to find The Right One. If you let the right one in, then count your good fortune. If you are still searching, remember to also love your hard-earned money enough to stay streetwise and vigilant to scammers.