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I am trying to work out how this attempted scam on me could possibly work financially for the scammers as it just seems like the time and effort involved as well as the low potential for payoff isn't there. The best way I have to describe the actual scam is by outlining the sequence of events:

  1. A few days ago, I was contacted by a random female named "Lina" (no surname) on WhatsApp asking "Are you my former colleague Jerry?"
  2. She had a number from the Netherlands, a WhatsApp business account, and a profile picture (quite pretty).
  3. I was going to block her as I would any random stranger sending me a message, but I was curious and I am a single man, so I added her but replied "I'm not Jerry".
  4. A great conversation ensued over the next few days. She was very nice and friendly with good English and a nice attitude - she was actually a pleasure to converse with and I honestly felt the conversation was truly two-way. To the point where I was initially going to post the question here "Is this a scam?", but then decided it wasn't a scam since she was so nice and wasn't asking me for anything.
  5. She asked me for a selfie and I supplied it - she reciprocated. Her photo matched her profile pic, and so did mine. She said she was 30 years old and her profile pic looked like she was European and that age, in case it matters.
  6. I performed a reverse image search on her photos using yandex, google and tineye but nothing even remotely close came up, so I assumed that the photos of "Lina" are real.
  7. She never once asked me for money, sent me to any URLs or anything like that. We had very deep and honest, civil, interesting and personal conversations.
  8. The only thing that seemed slightly "off" was that she kept insinuating how well-off she was, with a house in Hong Kong (where she was currently living), a Porshce 911 and Audi R8 etc. She (occasionally) mentioned casually that she didn't "work" much and was making money from "financial products" like her "coinbase wallet". I honestly didn't know or care what that was - I have zero interest in the crypto fad.
  9. Last night, she asked me if we could use her Kong Kong number to continue chatting as the Dutch number was her "work" phone and she wanted to keep chatting to me on her "personal" phone. I said sure, why not and added her HK number.
  10. The conversation immediately changed - the person on the other end was rude and pushy, with poor English, incomplete sentences, and basically using every (bad) sales trick in the book to try to "help" me to set up a coinbase wallet.
  11. I kept going with the conversation knowing it was some form of bait and switch, but I was really curious to try to figure out how it works.
  12. The last message I sent last night was basically: "It's late here and I need to go to bed, but send me another pic while I sleep so I can check it out in the morning!". As expected, I've received no messages since then.

I cannot for the life of me work out how this scam is supposed to work, nor what I should do next!

Here are my questions:

  1. How did "Lina" find me? Was it simply a case of randomly sending messages to phone numbers until someone answers? How is it worth anyone's time to do that?
  2. Why spend so much time on me? Why not flick me to the HK grunts much sooner? Is it a case of building up "trust" or a relationship over time, until the mark is "ready" to be converted? I don't feel like I ever said anything that indicated I'd be stupid enough to fall for a scam...
  3. How many guys could she possibly be stringing along at the same time? I'd say that she spent many hours of every day chatting to me, and her WhatsApp status was almost always "online", so I never got the impression that she was switching between talking to me and many other people at the same time.
  4. Coinbase looks like a legitimate business from what i can see - how can she and her cronies be making money from getting people to set up a coinbase wallet?
  5. Can the scammers make any use of my "personal" information? She didn't actually ask for any (so I doubt it's an identity theft type of scam), but over the course of our conversation I did send her a couple of face selfies, my first name (not surname), the city where I live, and she obviously has my mobile phone number. There were other random details like the fact I have a sister and stuff like that, but nothing useable that I can tell...
  6. What kind of payoff could be possible to make all this time investment worth it, especially for "Lina"? I mean, I could see that if she's farming out suckers to grunts in HK then it's a cheap operating cost, but surely her time as an intelligent, well-spoken, good-looking young female (assuming the pics are real) is worth more than this?
  7. What should I do next? Should I simply block/report both numbers, or are there any other steps to take in a situation like this?
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    "her WhatsApp status was almost always "online", so I never got the impression that she was switching between talking to me and many other people at the same time." Online doesn't mean "looking at your messages", it means "Whatsapp is open". If I'm chatting with person ABC, I would still show up as online to you.
    – T. Sar
    Dec 6, 2021 at 15:59
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    My intuition says that "she" is probably using your pictures to scam the next guy. Chances are the beautiful girl you saw was a previous mark. Your selfies are also real and it would be a waste not to use them on the next mark. Dec 6, 2021 at 16:29
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    "I don't feel like I ever said anything that indicated I'd be stupid enough to fall for a scam..." Ask yourself, when has any beautiful, rich woman ever contacted the wrong person by accident and then started friendship/relationship with them? By engaging in a conversation in the first place, you indicated you were a potential mark.
    – JimmyJames
    Dec 6, 2021 at 17:14
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    "I was initially going to post the question here "Is this a scam?", but then decided it wasn't a scam since she was so nice and wasn't asking me for anything." That's why you're a target. Your initial instinct was correct - block and ignore. You fell for the honeypot.
    – J...
    Dec 6, 2021 at 19:15
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    @J... Just to correct a number of you who are implying I "fell" for something - there's a massive difference between engaging with a scammer and actually falling for the scam (i.e. handing over money or whatever). I engaged with the scammer, but I didn't "fall" for anything as I haven't lost anything at all, apart from a bit of my time talking to someone interesting. Even though she was a scammer, the conversation was really engaging, so I don't feel like I'm worse off. If anything, my eyes have been opened to a new form of scam (albeit one that I still can't see is worth it).
    – Arj
    Dec 7, 2021 at 2:31

4 Answers 4

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To answer your specific questions in order:

  1. How did "Lina" find me? Was it simply a case of randomly sending messages to phone numbers until someone answers? How is it worth anyone's time to do that?

    It's no time at all if you've written a script to send messages to databases of phone numbers harvested from database leaks etc.

  2. Why spend so much time on me? Why not flick me to the HK grunts much sooner? Is it a case of building up "trust" or a relationship over time, until the mark is "ready" to be converted? I don't feel like I ever said anything that indicated I'd be stupid enough to fall for a scam...

    You engaged in the conversation - I'm sorry to say that that alone indicates you'd have a reasonable possibility of falling for a scam. [Edit: I've just re-read your question and you said she only contacted you initially a few days ago. If this had been weeks or months I could understand our confusion, but think about it - how many legitimate people who happen to be extremely wealthy would try to get a random chance contact into their wealth system after a few DAYS of talking?!]

  3. How many guys could she possibly be stringing along at the same time? I'd say that she spent many hours of every day chatting to me, and her WhatsApp status was almost always "online", so I never got the impression that she was switching between talking to me and many other people at the same time.

    1. lots and lots of people (so that even a relatively small %age of people who fall for it converts to enough money to make a living) and
    2. she's probably not even one person but a whole team of people working together.
  4. Coinbase looks like a legitimate business from what I can see - how can she and her cronies be making money from getting people to set up a coinbase wallet?

    If you continued to engage then setting up the wallet would not, of course, be the end of it. You'd find yourself making payments in and out of it and in no time you'd be in a very tangled web of money laundering etc.

  5. Can the scammers make any use of my "personal" information? She didn't actually ask for any (so I doubt it's an identity theft type of scam), but over the course of our conversation I did send her a couple of face selfies, my first name (not surname), the city where I live, and she obviously has my mobile phone number. There were other random details like the fact I have a sister and stuff like that, but nothing useable that I can tell...

    It's probably worth keeping an eye on your credit report over the next few weeks / months. Also keep an eye out for "lawyers" contacting you to say "WE think you've been scammed, we can help you recover what you lost / you may be entitled to compensation etc etc etc" - needless to say this is just the same team of scammers social engineering you into falling for more.

  6. What kind of payoff could be possible to make all this time investment worth it, especially for "Lina"? I mean, I could see that if she's farming out suckers to grunts in HK then it's a cheap operating cost, but surely her time as an intelligent, well-spoken, good-looking young female (assuming the pics are real) is worth more than this?

    All I can say to this is - evidently not, or "she" wouldn't be doing it. Also the "if the pics are real" thing is a big if - there are generative AIs that can create perfectly realistic faces these days. Also if she's real she may be participating under duress - once you get into these kinds of operations you have to assume the criminality doesn't stop at the "give me a load of your money" level.

  7. What should I do next? Should I simply block/report both numbers, or are there any other steps to take in a situation like this?

    Block, delete, move on; keep an eye on your credit report and be more cynical next time. Sorry :(

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    Good answer; just an addition for part 4: Coinbase has a referral program. The $10 bonus for getting someone to signup and use Coinbase may not be a lot in a place like the US or EU, but in some very poor countries, that's a lot of money. So the scam doesn't necessarily need to do something nefarious to be profitable.
    – anjama
    Dec 6, 2021 at 21:13
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    CF: thispersondoesnotexist.com - it gives you a 512x512 mugshot in a split second, free to reload for another. Occasionally you do get some nightmare fuel (so you do need some poor sap to curate them), but the majority is good for immediate use. Dec 7, 2021 at 4:10
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    "she" could also be a chat bot.
    – Nelson
    Dec 7, 2021 at 11:54
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    @Arj keeping in mind the caveat at the bottom of the page, worlddata.info/average-income.php shows Somalia has a monthly avg income of $26 USD. That's less than 3 Coinbase referrals per month. Several hours is nothing in that context.
    – anjama
    Dec 7, 2021 at 13:01
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    @BradThomas it feels like whale farming. In video games, a company can survive with thousands of players who don't pay because of the 5% who pay a little and the 1% who drop serious money into a game.
    – WernerCD
    Dec 7, 2021 at 21:19
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What kind of payoff could be possible to make all this time investment worth it, especially for "Lina"? I mean, I could see that if she's farming out suckers to grunts in HK then it's a cheap operating cost, but surely her time as an intelligent, well-spoken, good-looking young female (assuming the pics are real) is worth more than this?

This is a form of romance scam. I have read stories about people paying tens of thousands of pounds to this kind of scam, without ever meeting the person. The median monthly income in Hong Kong is $18400 HKD or about £1800 GBP.

In the United States alone, this market is worth at least $475 million per year according to the Wikipedia article above:

Monetary loss in the United States rose from $211 million to $475 million from 2017 to 2019. Number of cases rose from 15372 to 19473 in only two years.

$475 million spread over 19500 victims means an average of about $24000 USD per victim, or £18000 GBP. At this rate you only need to find little more than one average victim per year to "break even" on the average Hong Kong salary.

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    That is some useful math, I did not realize how big those payouts could be. Really puts some new perspective on the effort scammers go through. <del>Incidentally, as a courtesy for your contribution, ignore messages from an alleged Lana Kane in the future.</del>
    – Kroltan
    Dec 6, 2021 at 21:53
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    Keep in mind that the actual scammers may be in Benin or Nigeria, not a high cost place like HK. In any case, I think you are right that they were going for $thousands, maybe tens of thousands. The Hong Kong connection may be a bank account from where they can spirit the funds out. I'm pretty sure I could find someone to open a bank account for me by hanging around in the notorious Chung King Mansion. Dec 7, 2021 at 15:43
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The only thing that seemed slightly "off" was that she kept insinuating how well-off she was, with a house in Hong Kong (where she was currently living), a Porshce 911 and Audi R8 etc. She (occasionally) mentioned casually that she didn't "work" much and was making money from "financial products" like her "coinbase wallet". I honestly didn't know or care what that was - I have zero interest in the crypto fad.

This tells me this is likely a Bitcoin/cryptocurrency scam. I have experience of something very similar. You can learn more by searching for "bitcoin dating scam" or "cryptocurrency dating scam" on Google.

How this works is the scammer slowly builds trust with the victim while briefly mentioning they make a lot of money working with "investments" or something similarly vague.

After days or even weeks the scammer brings up an investment opportunity that sounds very promising. It's likely a new kind of cryptocurrency that's picking up steam. By investing right now, you can earn a lot of money, like the scammer claims they already have.

Instead of a real cryptocurrency platform, the scammer sends a link to a fake cryptocurrency website. When you "buy" cryptocurrency from the fake site, you are actually sending your money straight to the scammer along with your credit card details. After emptying the victim's bank account, the scammer will promptly stop any contact with the moneyless victim.

I can only speculate why scammers spend so much time and effort on baiting new victims. I assume the if the scam is successful, the scammer can get away with thousands of dollars. That's enough to pay some low-wage workers to impersonate attractive women online.

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    "After emptying the victim's bank account, the scammer will promptly stop any contact with the moneyless victim." Or worse, they'll display a fake bank account with $$$$$ and +1234% since last month. They'll happily be available as long as you want to invest more. Theyll be gone the second you want to withdraw. But why would you, with such an excellent ROI? Dec 6, 2021 at 22:21
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    @EricDuminil Ah yes, the OneCoin playbook. Dec 7, 2021 at 14:55
  • But this doesn't appear to be what she was doing, according to the OP she passed him onto a rude incoherent salesperson who appears to have blundered away all her hard and careful work
    – komodosp
    Feb 14 at 14:54
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  1. Coinbase looks like a legitimate business from what i can see - how can she and her cronies be making money from getting people to set up a coinbase wallet?

You mentioned they tried to

"help" [you] to set up a coinbase wallet.

They may be hoping that in the process of "helping" you set up a wallet they could get access to the account later. Either by hoping you say the password out loud when you set it (you'd be surprised what people say when others are helping them set up a new account), seeing the suggested password from your password manager if you screenshare the process, knowing the security questions and answers etc. They may have a more sophisticated way, but if they are able to somehow gain access to the accounts that they "helped" set up, it's just a matter of waiting for a victim to make a large deposit/"investment" into their coinbase account (or to make large gains with crypto, either way have a large balance) and then the scammers can log in and empty the account.

If that's the case, the fact that coinbase is a legitimate business helps them in a way, because people will be less wary of being walked through the steps of making an account with them.

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    People can be very lax about security in general, and especially so when they are working with someone they trust. Part of the long lead up to the scam may be gaining enough trust that the person will allow the person "helping" them set up their account to see or even set their password. Then you don't even have to bother with later parts of the scam, just send the bitcoins to your own account yourself.
    – Kevin
    Dec 6, 2021 at 23:01

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