Joint effort between Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Macau police foils global online love scam ring

The operation, which carried the code name “Soarblaze,” resulted in the arrest of 39 people, three of whom were the group’s masterminds

Singapore—Joint teams of police from Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, and Singapore have successfully exposed and brought to justice members of a transnational syndicate that had scammed 139 women from different countries out of S$5.8 million.

Police officers from SPF’s Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) joined the team, along with the Commercial Crime Investigation Department (CCID) of the Royal Malaysia Police, the Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau of the Hong Kong Police Force and Information Technology Crimes Division of the Macau Judiciary Police, reported The Straits Times (ST).

The operation, which carried the code name “Soarblaze,” resulted in the arrest of 39 people, three of whom were the group’s masterminds. Three of the masterminds, one man and one woman, were caught in Malaysia, where the group was based and had been operating since June 2018. Thirteen individuals from the group were arrested in Hong Kong.

Apart from the masterminds, the other 36 people involved in the scam have been charged with money laundering, since their bank accounts were discovered to have been used for collecting the money scammed from unsuspecting victims and to have laundered the crime’s proceeds. Among them were four Singaporean women who had been investigated by the CAD.

Three Nigerian men, four Malaysian men, and 11 Malaysian women were also among those arrested in the joint operation, which lasted for 11 months.

From the victims, all of who were women, 58 had been from Hong Kong, 41 from Malaysia, 30 from Singapore and 10 from Macau.

According to the police in Hong Kong, the increase in the number of incidents in the last few years caused officers from cybersecurity and technology crime bureau to launch the joint operation, a report from the South China Morning Post (SCMP) says.

This year alone, from January to September, there were 425 of cases of online love scams, cheating people out of HK$156.6 million (S$ 27.3 million).  One woman, age 53, lost HK28 million (almost S$ 5million) due to a love scam this year.

In 2018, there were 596 such victims of online love scammers, who lost HK$450 million (S$78.5 million). In 2017, there were 235 victims who lost HK$109 million (S$19 million) in online love scams, and the year before 114 people lost HK $95 million (S$16.5 million) in these kinds of scams.

In contrast, in 2015, only 52 people had been duped in romance scams, and lost HK$32 million (S$5.6 million).

David Chew, the director of the CAD, thanked Commissioner Mohd Zakaria Ahmad, Royal Malaysia Police’s CCID director, for having led the primary arrests in Malaysia.

He said, ”The success of this joint operation demonstrates the common resolve of the SPF and its regional partners to fight transnational fraud, and sends a strong signal to cross-border scam syndicates that we will dismantle their networks and arrest their members, wherever they may be hiding.”

Just this week, an Australian grandmother made international headlines when she was acquitted in Malaysia, after having had an earlier conviction for drug trafficking overturned at the Federal Court in Kuala Lumpur.

Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto, 55, a former anti-human trafficking worker, claimed to have been the victim of an international drug ring and deceived into smuggling illegal substances via a love scam.

A man purporting to be a US Army Captain named Daniel Smith, who said he was stationed in Afghanistan, had proposed to her. It was seen through Ms Exposto’s email exchanges with ‘Captain Smith’ that she had been asked to come to Shanghai to sign his army retirement papers prior to their marriage. Ms Exposto and ‘Daniel’ were supposedly in love and had been in constant communication from 2013 to 2014.

However, the drug ring had been sending her fake photos and videos that they had stolen from a retired British naval officer.

When she got to China, she was asked by a man who said he was an army buddy of Captain Smith to bring the papers, as well as a bag of Christmas gifts, back home to Australia.

Ms Exposto told the Federal Court that she had initially not wanted to bring the bag with her, but the man had taken everything out of the bag to show her that only clothes were inside.

While in transit at Kuala Lumpur, she made the mistake of following exiting passengers and handed the bag to customs officers for inspection. They found drugs sewn into the bag’s lining and Ms Exposto was promptly arrested.

At her trial, Professor Monica Whitty from the University of Melbourne, the expert witness called by the defense, said that the Australian woman was a “textbook romance scam victim”. -/TISG

Read related: Australian love scam victim who faced death penalty in Malaysia freed

Australian love scam victim who faced death penalty in Malaysia freed