What is trust and what must one do to earn it? At what point does trusting a stranger turn into romance or friendship? To what degree would you trust a friend or a partner? To an outsider, it may seem mind-boggling to trust a stranger you’ve met on the Internet. In my personal experience, I’ve taken that risk a few times, and the first time led to a wonderful two-year relationship, while the others led to pleasant moments at coffee shops, getting to know people I would otherwise have never crossed paths with. However, with all events that carry a risk, you play a sort of Russian Roulette game, and the risk is analogous to an inverse amount of barrels in the gun. Perhaps I played this game too many times, because this time, the shot that fired killed me on the inside.
A picture from a restaurant that ”Chris” claimed to have visited
I’m 28 in a small town in the Midwest, which makes dating very difficult over time. In an attempt to expand my horizons, one day I changed my location on the dating app - Coffee Meets Bagel - to Vancouver, a city which harbored fond memories for me. From there, I began talking with a man named “Chris Lee,” who almost immediately asked for my WhatsApp contact info. Chris described himself as a 34-year-old Malaysian “Operating Director” of his family’s food business, selling sauces from(?) Southeast Asia to North America. He told me I was pretty and that I must have been popular in my town, coming on a little too strongly than what I was comfortable with in the beginning. However, Chris was patient. The first day we exchanged messages, a loud thunder boomed, shaking the floor in my dingy college apartment. When I told him I would hide under my blanket and fall asleep, he messaged me afterwards to see how I was doing. He was funny and energetic, willing to talk about anything. He said he hoped that I could always feel comfortable to share my feelings and thoughts with him. He was attentive and messaged me every morning, night, and in between. He had a similar schedule: work until 6 and then spend time with his finance friends until late. In the evenings and sometimes the afternoons, we would talk. Every once in a while, he liked to talk dirty or ask for nude photos. After a week or so, we decided on pet names. He wanted to call me “baby” and he wanted me to call him “oppa.”
He was consistent about sending photos and voice notes, sending me his morning breakfast (which was often a salad or sandwich), and then his dinner (which was always some kind of fancy sushi). When we talked about my braces once, he sent a photo of himself smiling awkwardly, showing his teeth. As he had told me earlier that he was with friends, it made sense that his friends were in the background. Another time we decided to go to the gym at the same time and as if on cue he sent a photo of himself at the gym asking for mine. Another time in the morning, we shared photos of our residence. His photo was a picture of a bedroom with the lights off, and after I joked that I couldn’t see anything, he sent timed photos of different rooms of a house, as if he was walking through each room, turning on the lights. His car was consistently a special one -- black exterior with a red interior. His voice notes revealed a fairly good American accent, which made sense to me because he claimed to have lived in LA for 5 years before moving to Vancouver. He always refused to video chat because he said would leave himself as a “surprise” for when we meet the next month in Los Angeles, which was his plan. We talked about his experiences with racism in LA, scary movies, our favorite music, his travels, and our childhood memories, among many other things. We talked for hours on many days. I began to feel after several weeks that I knew him quite deeply. Sometimes when I would ask what he was doing, he would say that he was studying the candlestick charts, which he called “nodes,” for cryptocurrency. However, he never urged me to invest.
The dog “Chris” claimed his mom took care of. A reverse image search later revealed this image tied to another scam linked to Malaysia.
One fateful day, I began a chat with him about my misfortune in school. As a third year PhD student, I felt extreme pressure to perform well in this project to which I was assigned, but had shown no positive results for a year and a half. I started to wonder if I could even stay in the program, and I knew that I wasn’t happy with my life as it was. Chris offered me an alternative. He told me that he could help me change my life by teaching me how to invest. He told me that holding money in the bank would make almost no interest and that the best thing to do was to invest it. He sent me a link to a platform that he was using, LCTP, which was recommended by his friends. Of course at that time, I had my questions about the legitimacy of the app. I asked Chris if he was sure it was safe, and he said yes, and that he had withdrawn many times. I googled the website name, but found no hits. Since Chris said it was an Asia-based trading platform, I simply believed that the hits for this website were in another language. If a stranger had given me this app, I surely would not have downloaded it. However, Chris was not a stranger. He was someone who I trusted, and dare I say -- loved? To question the platform would have meant to question the legitimacy of the man I now trusted and began to have feelings for. And how could this man who has talked with me every day for three to four weeks now, joked with me and shared constant snapshots into his life, be a cheat?
I initially invested $2000, nearly the equivalent of one Ethereum coin at the time. He traded with me three times a week, telling me what to trade and when. I saw my account go from $2000 to $10,000 in a week, and he told me now I could make real money by investing more. I told him how much money I had in my account, and how much I was willing to invest. He told me to invest $30,000, at the max of what I was willing to invest, saying it should be enough. He told me to hurry and wire the money quickly into the app because the nodes were not always going to be this good. The next day I went to the bank and wire transferred $30,000 into Coinbase, no questions asked. Then from Coinbase, I sent virtual currency to the app. And he took me to trade that same day. I thought it was strange that Chris, who was normally busy during the day, was suddenly available when I needed help to talk to Customer Service and deposit funds. But I shook that off, feeling that I should trust this man who had become my best friend and romantic partner.
Conversation with “Chris” about astrological signs. This was one of the recommended qualities of a dog in the "Sha Zhu Pan" manual.
After the “slaughter,” where I had placed my biggest investment, I felt completely in love. In a way, I had felt that trusting him enough to place my life savings in his hands was a way that I was showing my commitment to our future. As expected, my profits continued to increase on the app, which I realized later was fake.
Finally, after a few weeks, my balance had reached $400,000 USDT and Chris told me it was time to withdraw. I asked him why we were suddenly finished and if he was going to leave me now. He became angry that I “always think like this,” and assured me that he was going nowhere. I waited a few days to withdraw, taking a research break to visit my old friend in San Francisco. I had told my friend about Chris from the beginning, asking if he thought Chris was real. He not only believed that Chris was real, but he also believed that the investment scam was real, assuming that Chris had figured out some patterns in the market that we, mere mortals, could not figure out. One afternoon shortly after I arrived, my friend asked me for the platform website. I told him the name, but he couldn’t access the website in the browser bar. After several minutes tinkering with typing in the name, he realized that the website name must be typed with the exact formal name, where “https” and “www” were clearly written out, which means the website link is likely only passed from one person to another. At this moment, I realized that I had been scammed.
Once more, I searched the website name on Google but this time found a Reddit page saying the site was a scam. There was a link to another subreddit about Pig Butchering Scams, spelling out the sequence of steps that a scammer uses to reel in customers: 1) Switch to WhatsApp, 2) Claim that they are suddenly romantically interested in you, and 3) Begin to call you by a pet name. Although he fit the criteria exactly, I didn’t want to believe that Chris was one of these people. However, I decided to ask him to help me withdraw from the app to confirm. That night I went to dinner with my friends and I told Chris that I wasn’t sure I wanted to withdraw all the money. Chris told me to withdraw it all and that he no longer had time to spend on this app anymore, confirming to me that he was indeed a scammer. Customer Service told me that no matter how much I withdrew, I needed to pay taxes. Not knowing what to do, I immediately told “Chris” that I was disappointed in him, although I understood this was his job. At first he apologized, saying he would leave this job in a few years. In the next moment, when I said I knew the money was gone, he asked, “What do you mean?”, as if he had completely changed character. Entering a shock about the scam, I argued with Customer Service that taxes on crypto before being transferred into USD was not correct. “Chris” tried to convince me that he had paid the taxes many times before with no problem, providing screenshots. Then, as per the subreddit on this type of scam, he offered to help with the taxes. I played innocent and told him that the app had tricked him too and that I wouldn’t involve him in these affairs because he was too innocent.
In the end, I tried to hint to him that I knew he was a scammer stuck in a bad situation and offered to teach him programming to find a better job. I didn’t know the situation clearly, but I wanted to believe that he cared about me and didn’t want to be a scammer. He sent me one final message, saying that I was a kind girl and he wished me a happy life, but he “couldn’t make it” and he loved me. I responded, “Are you sure, oppa?” but the message was never received. He had blocked me.
A picture from ”Chris’” house. The image was likely taken from a prior victim.
In the days following the scam, I cried and cried. In this kind of scam, you lose three things: your life savings, your trust in people, and your ability to love someone romantically. At that time, I had felt that Chris was a best friend -- the person I could tell anything to. I trusted him with my thoughts, my feelings, my heart, and my money. It took me weeks to leave the house, to feel motivated to get back to work. I talked to a therapist and took some time off for my mental health, feeling completely broken. Although it has been more than a month since the scam, I still can’t feel anything but a desire to prevent future victims of this. And every day I fight the desire to find the main guy who played “Chris” and ask him why he did it. In retrospect, I feel lucky that I hadn’t lost more. I feel lucky that he blocked me instead of extorting me for the nude photos I had sent him or gaslighting me into paying more money. I feel lucky that he had at least said goodbye. I had had one of the relatively “nicer” scammers (check out the other stories), and yet I still felt completely broken and ashamed.
Looking back at the scam, I re-evaluate the meaning of trust. Yes, I trusted someone I connected with quickly online, and invested my life savings in a fraudulent app. I shouldn’t have given someone I’ve never met that much trust. But scams are made in person as well. Scams are difficult to avoid and they may lurk anywhere one’s guard is down. I trusted someone enough to invest $30,000, all my savings, into an app he recommended. But some people trust each other enough to get married after only one month or even one week. My trust was not even that great.
However, I will never trust another person in the same innocent way again.