Love knows no boundaries, even planetary ones.
A 65-year-old Japanese woman fell victim to an international romance scam concocted by someone claiming to be a Russian astronaut in need of funds to return to Earth, local police have reported.
Japan’s Shiga Prefectural Police claimed the victim from Higashiomi City sent the scammer around 4.4 million yen (about $41,340) over the span of several months.
The pair met on Instagram in June when the faux astronaut sent the woman a message and claimed to be working at the International Space Station, police allege.
The Japanese television network TV Asahi claimed the scammer’s profile included several photos taken from space.
Kyodo News, a Tokyo-based news agency, reported the pair also communicated through a messaging app called Line. There, the scammer claimed he was in love with the victim and wanted to return to Earth to marry her.
But there was one catch: the scammer claimed he needed to pay out-of-pocket for several elements of his return journey, including a rocket and its “landing fees,” Kyodo News reported.
The scammer told the woman he loved her and wanted to start a new life with her in Japan, but this could only happen after buying the rocket to fly to the country, he claimed. The woman complied and sent the “astronaut” repeated monetary transactions to a specified bank account.
When the scammer continued to insist that she send more money, the victim became suspicious and alerted police.
Online romance scams — though they seldom feature astronauts — have grown in popularity in recent years.
In 2021, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre reportedly received 1,249 complaints of romance scams from 925 Canadian victims. The reported Canadian loss was more than $50 million, the second highest amount of fraud-related dollar loss that year.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police encourage social media users to remain skeptical of messages from unknown persons. The organization recommends conducting a thorough internet search of a person’s identity. They also claim that if a person has “fallen in love fast” or asks for money, it should be seen as a red flag.
If you or someone you know is victim to an online romance scam, you should file a report with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.