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True love or false?

28 Aug 2018

Online romance scams continue to rise in Hong Kong.
Online romance scams continue to rise in Hong Kong.
Dr Lucetta Kam
Dr Lucetta Kam

We hear about online romance scams occurring from time to time, but we may not know some of the really alarming news about them. According to the Hong Kong Police, a total of 272 online dating and romance scam cases in which victims lost over HK$130 million were reported in the first half of this year. This was more than twice the number reported in the same period of 2017. 

The figures showed that about 90% of the victims were women, with many of them well educated. So one wonders, how come they fell for these online con men?


Dr Lucetta Kam, Assistant Professor of the Department of Humanities and Creative Writing, says that romance scams have in fact existed for a long time. In the past, scammers acted as pen pals and contacted victims through letters. But with the advances of communication technology, many kinds of online scams now exist. "Dating websites and apps are springing up in the market after the emergence of the internet. Thus, urbanites, especially the new generation, are changing their habits of making new friends and dating."


In the real world, we have long-standing "scripts" for establishing new relationships and dating. We need face-to-face communication to build mutual trust. However, this kind of "verification" does not exist in the cyber world. Dr Kam said, "Users of dating apps can be anonymous, which is also one of the major characteristics of these apps. As the true identity is hidden, people tend to let their guard down and ignore some fundamental principles that they may insist on in real life."


For example, many scammers claim to be foreigners and request victims to transfer money to local or mainland bank accounts. Victims go ahead and do so without having their suspicions aroused. This is because in the cyber world, people tend to be less vigilant due to the anonymity and are more willing to establish closer relationship with strangers. At the same time, new technology has caused changes to certain traditional social values such as love, family and marriage as well as the definition of an intimate relationship. Dr Kam says, "The young generation like fast-food relationship with less burden." She adds that the popularity of online banking also facilitates money transfers so it is easier for scammers to cheat people.


Dr Kam says dating apps and websites have become very popular and the users are not limited to the young. According to some academic studies, many users are well-educated elites who know how to promote themselves and win attention in the competitive "cyber market". Therefore to avoid being scammed, we have to stay alert and stick to our "rules and principles" of the real world even when we enter the cyber world.