Indian Woman In Philadelphia Loses $450,000 In AI-Generated Crypto Romance Scam

Indian Woman In Philadelphia Loses $450,000 In AI-Generated Crypto Romance Scam
Cover Image Soure: Romance scams are on the rise (representative image) | Pexels | Photo by Designecologist

An Indian woman was robbed of her retirement funds in a romance scam linked to an AI-generated "wine trader." The Philadelphia-based tech professional, Sheya Datta, 37, lost $450,000 and is now saddled with debt due to the cryptocurrency romance scam. The scammer used deepfake technology and a sophisticated script to fool Datta, who says that her “brain was hacked” in an AFP report.



 

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For Datta, the scam began on a dating app called Hinge in January last year, where she met Ancel, a French wine trader based in Philadelphia. After being "charisma bombed," the two quickly moved to WhatsApp to continue their conversation. The supposed gym buff, Ancel, promptly deleted his Hinge profile to give Datt his "focused attention." The two exchanged selfies and flirty emojis, and in a mind-boggling move, Ancel did video calls with Datta where he appeared shy and posed with a dog. Later, the video calls were found to be generated by AI deepfake technology.

Datta fell for the video calls and texted daily. The man appeared affectionate, preying on Datta's desire for a caring companion after her divorce. However, one red flag popped up when the plans to meet physically kept getting pushed back by Ancel. Despite this, Datta was not immediately suspicious, and on Valentine's Day, she even received a bouquet from Ancel, sent from a Philadelphia flower shop, with the card addressing her as "Honey Cream," according to AFP.



 

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Along with the romance, Ancel sold her an idea and a dream. "The dream was, 'I'm retiring early, I'm well off. What is your plan?'" Datta told AFP. The scammer further claimed that he made his money from investing and advised Datta to do the same and retire early. He even sent her a link to download a crypto trading app, which had two-factor authentication to make it appear legitimate. He then showed her some money-making trades, according to screenshots seen by AFP.

Datta fell for the charm and converted some of her savings into cryptocurrency through the exchange Coinbase. The fake app initially allowed her to withdraw her gains to boost her confidence and extract more investment from her.

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Pexels | Photo by Michelle Leman
Romance scam (representative image) | Pexels | Photo by Michelle Leman

"As you make astronomical amounts of money trading, it messes with your normal risk perception," Datta said in hindsight. Additionally, Ancel kept pushing her to invest more of their savings and even take out loans to invest through the app. Reluctantly, Datta liquidated her retirement fund to invest more money. By March, Datta had invested nearly $450,000 which on paper had more than doubled. However, the façade came crashing down when Datta tried to withdraw her funds but was asked for a payment of personal “tax.”

Suspecting a scam, Datta asked her London-based brother for advice. He did a reverse image search of the pictures shared by Ancel and found out that the photos were of a German fitness influencer. Thus, in a flash, Datta realized that all of her money was gone. “I couldn't sleep, couldn't eat, couldn't function," Datta said.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, about 64,003 reports of romance scams were received in 2023. These scams resulted in losses of about $1.14 billion in total with median losses per person being $2,200, the highest among any form of imposter scams.



 

As per the FTC, romance scammers target victims regardless of age, occupation, or any other demographic variable. Thus, anyone can be targeted if they’re on a dating app or have a social media presence. So one should always be vigilant while talking to strangers so that you can spot the red flags of a scam early on.

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