Ground control to major fraud…

International romance scams are a growing problem around the world. This is when a fraudster assumes the identity of an eligible bachelor or bachelorette on social media and prays on people’s sense of loneliness to drain them of money by asking for money for transportation costs to meet, deal with medical emergencies, or any other fantastical reason.

And they don’t get much more fantastical than a case that occurred in Shiga Prefecture earlier this year. According to Shiga Prefectural Police, on 28 June a 65-year-old resident of Higashiomi City met a man on social media who claimed to be a foreign national working on the International Space Station.

The woman then got into deeper communication with the man over the messaging app Line and he began telling her things such as “I want to move to Japan and start a new life,” “Even if I say it 1,000 times it won’t be enough, but I’ll keep saying it: I love you,” and eventually “Will you marry me when I come to Japan?”

Then, sometime around August, the man requested money to return to Earth. According to his story, life on the ISS is a pay-your-own-way deal and he needed to cover the cost of a rocket back and the landing fees. 

▼ It would seem that neither the criminal nor the victim were aware that rockets are only used to leave earth, gravity usually brings people back free of charge.

Complying with his request, the woman made five bank transfers over five days, totaling about 4.4 million yen (US$30,000) to cover her lover’s return flight to Earth. However, when he continued to ask for money, she grew suspicious and eventually filed a police report.

It’s hard not to feel bad for a person who was obviously so caught up in wanting something to be true that it cost them dearly. As such there was a lot of sympathy online, while others still couldn’t help poking fun at the brazen absurdity of the fraud.

“This is even beyond an ‘international’ romance scam.”
“These criminals are getting really outlandish with their plots.”
“An Earth landing for 4.4 mil is pretty cheap.”
“I think they intentionally make the story ridiculous like that, so when the victim finally does find out they’re more likely to be too embarrassed to report it.”
“At least someone is out there trying to get married these days.”
“It’s a real-life space opera.”
“Still, I think that rather than living a life of cynicism, being someone who trusts and tries to help others is ultimately happier, even if this stuff happens.”
“I wonder why 4.4 million was the magic number to get her suspicious.”
“Love really is blind.”

Unfortunately, given the anonymity and likelihood that the scammer – while earthbound – wasn’t even in the country to begin with, justice may be very difficult to serve in this instance.

That’s why the Shiga Police are reminding everyone that prevention is key and to never transfer money to anyone that you meet on social media. That goes doubly true for people claiming to be astronauts and famous billionaires who can’t spell their own name right.

Source: The Sankei News, NHK, Hachima Kiko
Top image: Wikipedia/NASA-Boeing
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