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The number of “romance scam” cases, in which offenders steal money from people they get to know through matchmaking apps for marriage and relationships, is soaring in Japan.

People are increasingly looking for partners through such apps as they have fewer opportunities to go out amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

One expert has warned that it is more difficult for potential victims to escape monetary damage if they choose to trust such offenders and their dubious financial advice.

The number of consultations over faulty investments related to online matchmaking stood at only five in fiscal 2019, according to the National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan. But the figure grew to 84 in fiscal 2020 and reached that level only in the first four months of fiscal 2021.

In June this year, a woman in her 30s who lives in the Tohoku region became acquainted through an app with a man who claimed to be a native of Canada and resident of Tokyo.

The woman was drawn to the man based on his profile picture on the app and had close communications with him via social media. She subsequently fell in love with him, she recalled.

Later, the man introduced an investment plan to her, and she purchased cryptocurrency at a foreign exchange following his instructions.

She said that the asset generated a profit of $60 (about ¥6,600) within several minutes and that she had “trusted the man thoroughly.”

The woman then transferred a total of ¥6 million she gathered from her family and other sources to a designated account, believing him when he said he wanted to “seize a chance together” with her.

She realized that she had been defrauded only when the exchange requested a further deposit, and after she had already sent an additional ¥5.5 million.

The women and the man in question knew each other only through messages they sent each other. She has never met him in person or even heard his voice.

Later, she learned that his profile picture was a photo of a foreign celebrity and that the exchange did not exist.

“I was doubting (the man) but could not find any proof (that he was an imposter), and thought there was nothing wrong with what the man I loved had said,” she explained.

Terue Shinkawa, an author and counselor who gives advice on romance scams, pointed out that many victims are people who started looking for partners after feeling lonely amid the pandemic.

She introduced cases in which offenders tried to prevent their exchanges with potential victims from becoming public, claiming these were secrets between them.

“It’s important to consult with others and search for the profile image online if you feel something is strange,” Shinkawa said.

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