Nurse cheated of $240,000 in love-crypto scam says, “I can’t see what is coming next, but I’ve found peace”
by Janice Tai // May 27, 2022, 2:42 pm
During her lowest point in September to December last year, Jenny had suicidal thoughts as she could not see how she would repay her debts with interest. Photos by Janice Tai.
Originally from Penang, Malaysia, she had been working as a nurse in Singapore for the last seven years.
The year the Covid-19 pandemic gripped the world was also the period when she exited a nine-year relationship with her ex-boyfriend.
Alone in Singapore and unable to visit her family overseas due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, Jenny* (not her real name) found pulling long hours in the hospital during the pandemic especially tiring.
“I thought to myself: Life could not just be about work, work and work,” said Jenny, 38.
So, when she received a message in Mandarin from a stranger on Instagram in the June of 2021, she thought it was harmless to make a new friend and engage in some chit-chat about their respective lives.
The stranger claimed to be a 34-year-old Shanghainese interior designer based in Vancouver, Canada. He also has a part-time job in investing in cryptocurrency, he added.
Daily, he would check in on her and send pictures about how he spent his day, such as what he cooked or the latest painting that he did.
“We talked about life, work and everything. I thought I had found someone I could talk to. The conversations felt authentic. He would ask me how was I and what was I doing,” Jenny told Salt&Light. She began to look forward to this man’s texts and calls every day.
She confided in him about her long days at work and he listened closely, seeming to understand her struggles.
After one week, he boldly told her that he wished to date her and asked if she would want to be in a relationship with him.
“I said I preferred if we remained as friends, as my first criteria for a partner would be a Christian,” said Jenny.
He joked in response, remarking that her requirement would surely disqualify him, and asked if she had thought about the possibility that she could end up all by herself in an old folks’ home should she remain single.
Jenny would not compromise. God had been real in her life and she would want her life partner to be able to share such an integral part of her life and faith.
Craving authentic love
Born to young, unwed parents who were busy with life’s responsibilities and were not fully prepared for parenting, Jenny grew up not receiving the love and attention she craved. At the age of 10, she was also sexually assaulted by an adult she knew.
These childhood circumstances haunted her through the years, affecting her self-confidence and view of relationships. She would try to be a people-pleaser and would get into relationships fairly quickly, being naïve and easily convinced of the other party’s affections.
Jenny grew up not receiving the love and attention she craved. At the age of 10, she was also sexually assaulted by an adult she knew.
Though her father is a preacher, Christianity had always been simply a “religion” for her until she was baptised both in water and in the Holy Spirit in a charismatic church in Malaysia in 2009.
“I felt peace and joy and His anointing upon me like never before. I began to understand that God doesn’t see me the way I see myself,” said Jenny.
That was a pivotal turning point for her. As she began to walk with the Lord, waking up at 5am every morning to pray for an hour before starting her shift work as a nurse in Saudi Arabia back then, God began to give her revelations and visions.
For instance, during her usual morning prayers two days after assisting with a 22-hour long surgery, God showed her that the team had left some gauze in the throat of the patient which was supposed to be removed. She quickly alerted the surgical leader who was alarmed because the patient could have choked on it.
She shared some of these faith encounters with her newfound friend. She also shared the Gospel with him several times, though she noticed he would often question what she said and argue back.
During this time, she also mentioned to him that she was planning to buy a house in Singapore that year to live in after getting her citizenship.
Investing in cryptocurrency
“Why not invest in cryptocurrency to grow your money? I can advise you what coin to buy and when to sell. But, of course, I won’t do it for you. You would have to do the whole process yourself,” he suggested.
She already had investments in shares and gold and thought perhaps she could try her hand in cryptocurrency. She had been hearing a lot about it lately.
Initially, she made a few hundred dollars on the platform. He encouraged her to invest more and so she went online to take up a loan.
So, she followed his instructions to open her own account on a dedicated website and put in a few hundred dollars first, to monitor its growth.
“Friends told me it should be safe as long as I don’t give him any money. I thought I was in full control of the investment as it was under my own account. He would give me advice but I would buy and sell on my own,” said Jenny.
Initially, she made a few hundred dollars on the platform. He encouraged her to invest more and so she went online to take up a loan in order to get more money to pump into the platform.
One day, about a month after they first started talking to each other, he told her he was willing to become a Christian and follow her to church. She was happy to hear that. Upon his prodding, she eventually gave in to his request to become her boyfriend.
He proceeded to talk about their future together, such as his plans to move over and how they could both work towards their shared dreams.
That was when the ball dropped.
Just when her future looked rosy, she discovered that she had been scammed of $30,000 from the credit company she had supposedly taken out a loan from. Scammers had masqueraded as a legitimate credit company online and gotten her to hand over that sum of money, supposedly for registration and administrative fees and to maintain a minimum balance in her account, in order for her to borrow more money.
“I was in despair as that’s the money I had borrowed from friends and they trusted me, knowing that it was unlike me to borrow unless it was urgent,” said Jenny.
Her new boyfriend comforted her and reassured her that she would be able to make back the $30,000 “pretty easily” through the cryptocurrency platform if she invested more funds in it. He even pumped $10,000 into her “account” to convince her, and then urged her to borrow more from her family and friends.
She did not want to lie to her loved ones to borrow the money, so she turned to various banks and legal moneylenders to borrow some $150,000 which was pumped into the platform to keep the investments rolling.
“I didn’t like the way he was pressuring me to lie and borrow more money. I had no peace about the relationship.”
“It was stressful worrying about the amount of money and interest I had to pay back to the creditors. As I monitored the investments and saw it hit almost $30,000 in profits, I was determined to take the money to return it to my friends, then stop all investments and break up with him,” she said.
“I didn’t like the way he was pressuring me to lie and borrow more money. I had no peace about the relationship. Though I ignored the Holy Spirit initially, I finally decided it’s better to go separate ways,” she added.
When she told him what she intended to do, he threatened to take his life.
“My investments are already doing badly and I have lost almost everything. If I lose you, what else do I have to live for?” he pleaded with her.
Her heart softened and she decided to continue to help him.
Yet he kept pressuring her to borrow yet more money from others. She became so stressed that she could not eat or sleep properly, and the heart condition that she was predisposed to flared up, landing her in the hospital. She was experiencing chest tightness, shortness of breath and heart palpitations, and the doctor recommended that she go for surgery.
She delayed going for surgery as he made a promise to come over to Singapore to accompany her for the procedure.
It was yet another ruse to reel her in, and to persuade her to pump in more money into their investments so that they could “earn money faster and he could then come over to Singapore earlier”.
In desperation, she borrowed from her father by lying to him that the money was meant to be returned to the friends from whom she had previously borrowed money. She also persuaded her mother to fork out some money to join her in the investments. And finally, as a last resort, she took out a mortgage on her house in Malaysia.
In September last year – her last investment – she injected another $70,000 into the cryptocurrency platform. At that point, she had invested a total of $240,000.
When her father found out that she had even mortgaged her home in Malaysia, he became worried and asked a fellow pastor to pray for his daughter.
As the pastor was praying, she received a word of knowledge that his daughter had trusted a man and was giving him a lot of money.
The pastor told him that, as she was praying, she received a word of knowledge that his daughter had trusted a man and was giving him a lot of money.
At that time, her father kept the word of knowledge to himself as he was not sure if his daughter was truly being scammed and did not want to alarm her. However, he confided in a church friend who, upon hearing some of the details, was convinced that his daughter had become victim to a “pig butchering” scam.
Called sha zhu pan in Chinese, the scam involves the perpetrator building a relationship – often romantic but not always – with the victim over months, akin to fattening the pig, before convincing them to invest money into a fake venture, thus “slaughtering the animal”.
The losses were often significant, averaging US$98,000 based on 240 victims surveyed by the Global Anti-Scam Organisation. About 70% of the victims were women.
Unlike traditional romance scams, most of those who fell for “pig-butchering” scams were people in their 20s and 30s, with nearly 90% of them holding a bachelor’s degree or higher, as the scale and strategy behind each scam was immensely sophisticated.
A script for the “religious profile”
The scammers get to know the profile of the victim – in Jenny’s case they worked on her strong faith profile – and come up with scripts to connect with and manipulate her accordingly.
On the same day the pastor received the word of knowledge, the other church member called Jenny to talk to her about the possibility that she had fallen victim to a “pig-butchering” scam.
“There wasn’t much awareness of such scams at that time. I didn’t really believe that it was happening to me but it stopped me from borrowing further. I had even considering going to unlicensed moneylenders but then decided not to,” said Jenny.
Upon hearing about the developments, her father was troubled and began searching online for more information on such scams.
He chanced upon the blog of a “pig-butchering” victim who lost about $500,000 and sent the link of her blog post to his daughter, reminding her that it would be a red flag if she found that she could not withdraw her funds from the investment platform.
“Dad, it is not a coincidence that you are sending me this link.”
Jenny’s suspicion was not aroused as, over the last two months, she had been able to withdraw money from the platform to be transferred into her bank account. Each transaction was between $1,000 to $3,000 and she had successfully withdrawn a total of about $16,000.
To her horror, when she read the article her father had sent, it showed photos of the same man she had been speaking to for the last four months. Some of the photos were different from the ones she received, but he was clearly the same man.
Some of the red flags started to make sense.
All this while, she had not seen his face live.
“We need to preserve some mystery till we see each other face to face,” he had told her.
Once, she video-called him but he declined the call, saying he was busy. Then he diverted her attention by sending more pictures of him going about his day.
The investment platform that she was on could be accessed only by a dedicated website and not via a well-established app or trading platform.
Scam after scam
“Dad, it is not a coincidence that you are sending me this link,” Jenny texted her father.
Overwhelmed by the discovery, all she felt was emptiness and numbness. It was too much, too soon; she did not know what to feel or think.
She felt that the fact that her dad had come across the same perpetrator could not be anything but the hand of God.
Immediately, she confronted the scammer, still hoping that she could get her money back and that he would not continue lying to her. She still believed in his good nature, urging him to come to Singapore and she would work out with him whatever difficulties he may be facing.
She tried to withdraw the money in her cryptocurrency account but was informed she would have to invest a further $240,000.
He denied all her accusations and terminated their relationship.
She tried to withdraw the money in her cryptocurrency account but was informed by its administrator that in order to withdraw such a large amount and for “safety purposes”, she would have to top up the funds and invest a further $240,000.
Upon realising that her account was frozen, she found Singapore-based non-profit Global Anti-Scam Organisation (Gaso) online, which confirmed that she had been scammed.
In the aftermath of being scammed, not once but twice, Jenny took on additional part-time work as a vaccinator on the weekends on top of her full-time job as a nurse to try to raise more money to pay off her debts.
Yet her total debts of $270,000, with accumulating interest fees, was just too much for her to bear, even if she worked seven days a week.
“Banks were calling me daily at work,” she said. “I got so stressed when I was unable to pick up their calls.”
During her lowest point in September to December last year, Jenny had suicidal thoughts several times a day.
“It’s very tempting because it’s the easy way out. If I am no longer around, my CPF can be withdrawn and the funds can be used to pay back my friends and parents. My house can also be sold to pay off the debts,” said Jenny.
During her lowest point in September to December last year, Jenny had suicidal thoughts several times a day.
When the suicidal thoughts come, especially at night, there were a few times when Jenny would walk out of her house along the HDB corridor and look down 16 floors.
“There was a time when I wanted to jump and out of nowhere came a voice that said, ‘Are you sure?’” said Jenny. “That woke me up from the darkness that I was in.”
As for the scammer she once thought she knew, she feels no hatred towards him.
“I believe he scams for a reason. I can only hope he comes to repentance. Whatever debts he may have that led him down this road, I hope he would do the right thing and do a proper job instead to pay them off. Of course, I know this may be wishful thinking or naivete,” said Jenny.
With the huge amount of debts tied to her name, she had no choice but to file for bankruptcy earlier this year.
A bankruptcy status in the records makes it harder for her to secure other part-time jobs. Yet it has helped reduced her debts significantly to some $100,000 now, which has to be repaid in about four years.
With three quarters of her current salary going to repay loans and debts, she is left with some $200 a month for her daily living expenses.
Yet Jenny, who carries a light-hearted deposition despite all that has happened to her, tries to take it all in her stride.
“I forgive him for scamming me, but of course I won’t forget what he did. God will mete out His justice,” she said.
“I am unable to forgive myself until I repay everything, especially to my family and friends.”
She has been less kind to herself.
“I am unable to forgive myself until I repay everything, especially to my family and friends. I feel guilty and sinful for making this mistake and lying to borrow money. But I know I am being stupid and falling into the devil’s trap, because our God is a forgiving God,” said Jenny.
Her lack of forgiveness towards herself has affected her spiritual life.
Unlike in the past when she could easily pray for an hour before work every morning, she now finds it tough to pray.
“When this thing happened, I could not pray at all. Perhaps I did not feel worthy. But it’s starting to get better now and I can pray simple prayers such as ‘God help me, give me this day my daily bread’,” said Jenny, who now deliberates over spending even a dollar.
Though she still finds it difficult talking to God, she is aware that He has never left her.
God’s provision and care
“He has provided me with essentials and the food I crave by sending people to give them to me. I have support from family and friends, who will cook and send me food and buy me groceries,” said Jenny.
She recounted the time when she really wanted to buy an egg tart, but felt it was too expensive and walked away after thinking about it for some time.
The very next day, a patient sent egg tarts to the clinic and her colleague passed her five to bring home.
On another occasion, she walked past a bak kwa (barbeque sliced pork) shop and felt like having some. There were testers available but she did not take them, knowing that she would not have the money to buy after sampling.
Two days later, her colleague from her part-time job passed her a packet of bak kwa, telling Jenny that she could have it as she does not eat it.
“I know God is still there and He will walk through this with me. What I can do is to hold on to life and help others by creating awareness of such scams. Many others are still being scammed as technology gets more advanced,” she said.
After lodging a police report, Jenny has also been doing her own sleuthing work to track down the scammer and other victims.
She has found three other women victims – two are Singaporeans and the third is from Hong Kong. Together the three women banded together and tracked down the man’s IP address, only to find out that he was based in Cambodia. They also realised that it was not a one-man operation but a team of scammers who took turns to text the women.
The women have passed the information to the police and Jenny said investigations are still ongoing.
Now that on-site church services have restarted, Jenny has resumed going to church.
She has lost almost everything, yet she knows that God’s grace is sufficient.
“I don’t blame God over what has happened to me. It was my own mistake. I thank God that it happened to me instead of others. If it had happened to someone with a family, the breadwinner would find it hard to cope. Or if it had happened to an elderly person, he or she would not have been able to earn back the money,” said Jenny.
Yet this incident has not left Jenny without scars.
She finds herself less inclined to engage in in-depth conversations with others.
“As a nurse, we often ask after our patients, whether it is their medical history or family background, to see if there is any way in which we can support them better. But now, it takes more energy for me to have such conversations and I am less talkative. Maybe I am more wary, or maybe I have less compassion for others now,” she admitted.
These days, she has also stopped her part-time work during the weekends so that she has time to rest and recharge.
Her father texts her Scripture verses frequently, such as Psalm 7:11 about the judgement of God and Joel 2:25 about God’s promises of restoration, to encourage her to cling on to God.
She has lost almost everything, yet she knows that God’s grace is sufficient.
“I can’t see what is coming next, but God sees and He has a plan. I have peace, knowing that He is in charge of everything,” said Jenny.
As she gazed out of the window at the end of the interview, Matthew 6:25-26 comes to her: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”
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