Men/Sex

True Story:"I dated a sextortionist online unknowingly and he blackmailed me with my nude videos"

Ally*, 31, discovered her online “boyfriend” was a scam artist when he threatened to release video footages of her naked. She tells JEANNE TAI how she survived the sextortion attempt – and why she’s no longer afraid of him
 

 

“Miss, you’re being scammed,” the manager at the Western Union

counter at Changi Airport said to me. I stared at her dumbfounded. I had wanted to wire $3,000 to a branch in Malaysia so my Scottish boyfriend, Ned*, could be released from detention at Kuching International Airport.

 

Ned and I had connected over Facebook last October. After six months of chatting online and over the phone, he was finally visiting me in Singapore and I had eagerly gone to the airport to meet him. There, I got a phone call from a woman who identified herself as a Malaysian customs officer. She claimed that Ned had been detained for bringing in over US$30,000 (S$37,500) into the country, and she demanded that I pay for his release. When the Western Union manager heard my request, she asked how I’d met Ned. I told her and she replied point-blank: “Miss, this is a scam. We’ve seen many cases like yours before.” I refused to believe her. “I don’t want my friend to get hurt,” I implored.

 

 

Seeing I was not convinced, she put me on the line to the bank’s vice president, who told me calmly: “Miss, let me tell you a story. Tell me if it it sounds familiar.” She then related with chilling accuracy the timeline of Ned’s and my relationship: the Facebook

encounter. Our virtual romance. The plans to meet in Singapore. His detention at an airport. The demand that I pay a “fine” for his release. It was a story she had heard many times from other women. She had even given her contact number to all Western Union branches in Asia so staff could alert her if they met women who fell prey to such scams. Women like me.

 

“You have to make a police report,” she advised. “Oh crap,” I thought. A mysterious suitor It had all started about six months before with a simple Facebook message: Hi, I’m an engineer from the UK. I’m looking for someone to chat with. His profile page showed a photo of a 40something Caucasian. He said his name was Ned and he looked nice enough.

 

My interest was piqued. “Why not?”, I thought, replying to his message. Tough I didn’t admit it then, I was longing for a friend. I had been going through a rough patch at work; I wanted to quit but needed the income. I was close to depression.

 

To make matters worse, I had few friends to confide in. A Malaysian, I had moved to Singapore two years ago. Most of my loved ones were back home and I was single, my last relationship being eight years ago. I was also an introvert so I tended to do things on my own, convincing myself I didn’t need friends. In my free time, I read books, listened to music and window shopped – all alone.

 

Then Ned came along. We started chatting online but I doubted whether he was for real. After all, I’d read about online scams – crooks who gained their victims’ trust before cheating them of money. So I “tested” Ned. I asked for photographs and details about his job. When he told me he

“freelanced”, I asked which companies he’d worked for – he named conglomerates I was familiar with. When he said he was in the Middle East for business, he furnished me with a local phone number to call him at. I monitored the times of phone conversations to see if they synced with the time dif erence. They did.

 

Satisfied, I started to trust him. We would call each other regularly. I confided in him about my work woes and later, family problems. I’d long been estranged from my mother as she had favoured my brother since he was young. He was sympathetic, saying the right things like: “Your mothe rmay dote on yourbrother, but your dad loves you, doesn’t he?”

 

 

Yet, he could be pushy. After a month, he started calling me his “wife”; I threatened to hang up if he called me that again. “We’re not anything until we meet,” I said. But after a while, I let it slide.

Perhaps by then, I had already fallen in love. There were days when I missed him, even though we’d just spoken the night before. It might have been love, or that I simply relied on him emotionally. Either way, I was being lured in.

 

Sexual advances

 

Looking back, there were warning signs. Ned was skilled at toying with my feelings. Sometimes, he wouldn’t reply to e-mails for days. When he reappeared, he would give excuses like how he’d been away for work. When we Skyped, his webcam was always “broken” so I never saw him on video. Only my best friend knew about this relationship. She cautioned me to be careful, but by then I was infatuated with Ned and didn’t listen. In January, Ned started making sexual advances. He would tell me that he was horny and pressed me to undress for him over Skype.

 

I was uncomfortable but he persuaded me, saying: “This is an adult need.” I always refused. One day, he snapped: “I’m high now, but you’re not helping me.” He went offline. The next day, we Skyped again. I told him that if he was angry with me, then he wasn’t the man I thought he

was. He was contrite but pleaded again for me to strip. This time, I caved in to please him.

 

Once I’d undressed, he told me to pose in different angles and sexual positions so he could imagine having sex with me. He then told me he was masturbating while looking at my naked body. I hated it. I felt like a slut. In spite of that, he convinced me to expose myself on three or four more occasions. It never crossed my mind that he was secretly filming me.

 

Blackmail

 

 

After learning the shocking truth about Ned at the airport, my mind was in turmoil. I went home in a daze, still unsure what to believe. Over the next 24 hours, several people, posing as immigration authorities, kept calling, demanding that I transfer the cash. Eventually, Ned phoned, pleading for help. Instead of sending money, I off ered to contact his embassy here or a lawyer. He rejected these and cried, saying he was scared.

 

Eventually, when he realised that I wouldn’t budge, he said harshly: “You’ve made me cry. Now others will make you cry.” I went straight to the police who suspected Ned to be part of a professional scam outfit operating in a nearby country. Yet, they admitted that they had

little evidence to go on and might never catch Ned.

 

I was so traumatised that I considered suicide. So I sought counselling at the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware). I cried non-stop during my sessions. Then a week later, a CD-ROM was sent to my office. It contained video clips

of me naked. That same day, Ned also called me at work but I hung up before he could say anything. I spent the whole day frantically calling the police and my counsellor. They all advised me not to engage him. Ned hounded me with e-mails every day for three weeks. He never explicitly asked for money, only that I contact him for instructions. Th is was a strategic move: Had he demanded money, the police could have made a case for extortion. But it was little more than harassment, a less serious crime.

 

Action plan

 

For weeks, I was afraid that the videos would be released. My counsellor suggested I tell my loved ones about the situation, instead of having them find out through Ned one day. So I broke the news to my family. Thankfully, they stood by me and my father promised to check the mail and intercept any suspicious-looking packages. I also developed an “action plan”. I e-mailed my cousins, informing them that I had been caught in a scam and warning them not to open strange e-mails as they might contain viruses.

 

At work, I told my human resources department I was being blackmailed. They agreed to route my unanswered calls to voicemail, instead of the company receptionist. I never told my boss or my colleagues. If Ned sends the video to them, I plan to resign within 24 hours. I’m still searching for another job and saving money so I’ll be prepared if this happens.

 

Back on track

 

 

The last e-mail I got from Ned was two weeks ago, eight months after we first

met. It contained the usual threats about how he would leak the videos to my loved ones. These days, I just forward his messages to the police. Thankfully, the e-mails are getting more sporadic. Before this last message, he hadn’t contacted me for a month. The police told me they would be raiding the overseas headquarters of a suspected scam outfit next month. I

hope Ned will be caught.

READ ALSO: The time I cheated on my husband for revenge

In a way, I’m thankful this happened. Before this, I hadn’t been aware of how lonely I was. For two years, I’d put so much into work that I’d become a virtual hermit. And I’d been wrong about being a tough person who didn’t need friends.

 

So I’ve changed my life. I’ve joined activity groups, like board game and nature walk clubs, and I’m planning to take piano lessons. I’m filling my life with new friends and activities so I can

look forward, not back. I hope my story will encourage women to be more self-aware and pay attention to their emotional needs. When something is missing in your life or heart, that’s when bad eggs like Ned can exploit that void.

 

This story first appeared on Herworld, 2012 October issue.