Jakarta, Indonesia - Sandra [not real name], an executive from Pondok Indah, South Jakarta (ultra upscale residential area, dubbed the 'Beverly Hills' of Indonesia), lost the sparkle in her eye at Kuala Lumpur International Airport after she found out that her Internet boyfriend was a Nigerian, and not an Englishman, as he said on Facebook.
Shocked, Sandra asked the man why he had lied to her. He replied: "So now, my love, you do not want to accept me as I am because I am black?"
Sandra said that she was at a loss for words. She realized that he had been deceiving her.
The 29-year-old said that she had spent more than Rp 1billion (N16,347,010), including money she earned from selling a house, to help the Nigerian solve his "troubles" because he had promised to marry her.
Sandra was one of a host of victims of scams involving social media and the Internet. According to the Jakarta Police, such scams involved losses of more than Rp 5 billion and accounted for 40 percent of 176 cyber crime cases recorded during the first four months of 2013.
Cyber crime unit head Adj. Sr. Comr. Audie Latuheru told The Jakarta Post over the weekend that the perpetrators of so-called "love bride scams" approached potential victims on the Internet, saying sweet things and offering solutions to problems, love or even convincing promises to marry.
"Facebook and other social media are a world without boundaries that can be used by perpetrators to practice criminal acts. Perpetrators usually manipulate the emotional weaknesses of potential victims," Audie said.
He said the criminals usually studied target's profiles from photos, statuses, friends and locations. Thus, the criminals would know the problems of their marks, what made them happy and what help that they needed.
'Using such an approach, the perpetrators could learn how to get closer to the potential victims and hook them," Audie said.
Audie said the perpetrators usually approached potential victims — who he said could be men or women, adults or teens — using messages crafted in poor English and by uploading false photos of themselves.
Some of the perpetrators work in groups, others work individually.
He said that the police had caught some "love bride" syndicates that included foreigners from Nigeria, Cameroon and Libya who lived in Jakarta. "Some perpetrators are difficult to catch because they are creative and hide their IP [Internet Protocol] addresses".
Sociologist Ida Ruwaida Noor from the University of Indonesia said that most Internet users in Indonesia were not aware of the norms and values used to communicate on the Internet, using the medium for fun without an awareness of the dangers.
"Most people here access the Internet not as a means to gain a better education. They use it only to make new virtual friends and to make themselves feel proud of being popular among users," Ida said.
The sociologist said that local Internet users had a limited ability to scrutinize the people that they meet online. "They, for example, hastily confirm requests from people that they do not know well, including ones with unusual profiles or the ones with the least mutual friends."
Ida said that women were easily targeted in cyber crimes because they were vulnerable to emotional turbulence. "Most women use Facebook as way to kill loneliness and to get attention from others."
Internet users needed to build a critical attitude in networking through social media, according to Ida.
"Internet users need to be aware of the norms and values in communicating with other people in the virtual world," she added.
When love is in the air, don't throw caution to the wind!