The Ministry of Interior’s Anti Cybercrime Department has issued a warning to the public about the dangers of romantic scams, which often involve individuals unwittingly using their personal bank accounts to facilitate the transfer of money obtained through online fraud.

The department recently arrested three Cambodian suspects in two separate cases, including a woman, for their involvement in such schemes. The suspects have been sent to Phnom Penh Municipal Court for further legal proceedings.

In one of the cases, a female suspect, identified only as S.K.L., received money generated from an online scam carried out by a criminal group through a romantic scam. The case was referred to the Cambodian authorities by the Singaporean police.

In another case, two Cambodian male suspects were involved in receiving criminal proceeds on behalf of fraudsters and have also been sent to court.

"The department would like to remind people to be cautious when using social media, as criminals can use various methods to gain your trust and exploit you," the department stated.

"Furthermore, people should be wary of individuals who ask them to open a bank account or use their identity to receive money from abroad via services like Western Union or Ria, etcetera, in exchange for a commission. This activity is part of the crime, and individuals engaging in it will be held accountable under the law," it added.

Plang Sophal, spokesman for the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said the three suspects were with the investigating judge as of June 21.

Nget Mose, an independent digital security consultant, explained that a romantic scam, or internet love scam, involves criminals creating social media accounts using images taken from the internet, such as photos of well-known individuals or attractive people, to draw the victim’s interest.

He said scammers gradually build a romantic relationship with the victim until they gain their trust, then create an emergency situation and ask the victim to send them money via banks or other money transfer services.

Such scams, he said, occur in countries around the world, with most of the victims being female. In Cambodia, he said the perpetrators are both locals and foreigners.

Mose noted that in 2020, authorities arrested one Cambodian and three Nigerians for committing online fraud through romantic scams. In that case, the Cambodian suspect persuaded villagers to use their ID cards to open bank accounts and then sell those accounts to the scammers.

He highlighted that another form of scam involves perpetrators promising to send valuables, such as purses and gold, to the victims.

"Criminals have accomplices in the country to carry out these operations. In some cases, the Cambodians are their accomplices. Sometimes, the perpetrator disguises themselves [online] as a customs official and sends a message to the victim on Facebook Messenger or Telegram, stating that someone has sent goods to the victim, and the victim must pay taxes first," he explained.

Regarding the two recent cases, Mose noted they are similar to previous ones where perpetrators persuade those in need of money to open bank accounts using their own names for money transfers.

"But in these new cases, we see that the criminals and their local accomplices have changed the way they transfer money. Now, the money they receive from local victims is sent abroad through international wire transfer services such as Western Union and Ria," he said.

Mose explained that such transfers make it difficult for authorities to trace the criminals. Ultimately, he said, the victims or sellers of bank accounts and those who buy the accounts and send money to the criminals are Cambodians.

Another more complicated method of transferring money involves the use of cryptocurrency, which further complicates the authorities' efforts to arrest the actual culprits, he added.

For money fraudulently sent to victims via an international transfer service, they should immediately report it to the Anti Cybercrime Department, as well as file a complaint with the transfer company, said Mose.