With the end of her 20-year marriage, business administrator Aline Fernandes dos Santos, 41, created a profile on dating apps, the almost natural path of a single person in São Paulo.
She had a few less-than-exciting encounters until she matched Jack, an attractive 33-year-old Brit half a mile away from her. “I’m from London, a businessman and an investor” read her biography on the app.
They started texting on March 11. She never imagined that, a month later, the flirtation would result in a loss of around R$ 600 thousand. “It’s the savings of my whole life, plus the debt I ended up in,” she says.
Jack’s profile was active on the app until April 24th. For him, the platform was a bait to win people’s trust.
Aline received messages like “did you get home okay?”, “have a good day at work” and “you are the first person I talk to in Brazil”.
“It’s a tie, it involves you. Then there’s a moment when he talks about his work, that he’s very passionate and dedicated”, he says.
Jack claimed to work with cryptocurrency investing. He said he had a company and that he was in Brazil to take care of a sick uncle, with advanced age and in the process of dementia – which he uses as a justification for not scheduling meetings. Aline even tried to meet him by video, but his uncle was also used as an excuse.
On the first day, the conversation in English has already migrated to WhatsApp. His area code was 44, UK.
On the second day, he managed to introduce the main subject. He said “the market today is hectic”, to talk about cryptocurrencies. He uploaded a photo with his supposed work desk, which has a computer with a full screen of stock graphics. It was the hook for the question that changed everything in Aline’s life: “Do you understand investing?”.
She, who until then only invested in low-risk assets, said no, but was open to learning. “I was curious, but I didn’t know how to trade stocks, let alone cryptocurrencies. He explained how it worked and said he would teach me if I wanted to. Then the explanations came right, I checked, and I decided to make a contribution.” She didn’t tell anyone.
These explanations were concepts about cryptocurrencies and the functioning of the market – some copied in full from brokerage websites. Two cryptocurrency specialists consulted by Folha analyzed these messages and stated that the information was consistent.
Although without work for a few months, Aline was financially secure. The money she lost came from selling half the apartment she shared with her ex-husband and other assets.
The first investment was US$ 1,000 (R$ 4,700 at the current price) in a certified international brokerage, Crypto.com, whose poster boy is actor Matt Damon.
“That’s where the cat’s jump is, it teaches you how to invest in a reputable brokerage firm, which exists, and does not ask for your data, your password, it just guides you.” She would send screenshots of her cell phone screen and he would return them signaling where she should click.
One hypothesis among analysts is that this site was used by the scammer only to convert the dollars into cryptocurrency.
The money paid off, Aline perked up, and Jack then suggested that she transfer everything to a “more worthwhile” brokerage. On another front of the virtual relationship, he began to say that he wanted to settle in Brazil and that he was interested in a more serious relationship.
Aline passed the amount to a broker called BTX Exchange. This time, he did not check the origin on the internet. According to the website Scamosafe, which detects the veracity of some investment sites, it is a fraudulent brokerage, which offers “investment with fictitious currencies” and has no company associated with it, according to a report.
Folha contacted BTX Exchange by email, but received no response. There is no phone number or company location on the website. On the internet, there are three more reports of people who were also unable to rescue the application on this platform.
“One hypothesis is that the fraudster has created an exchange [que é a BTX], with its own business rules, using various open source resources available on the market and that this is an international gang. Victims are able to bring in funds, but they are no longer able to withdraw money from there,” says Courtnay Guimarães, chief blockchain scientist at technology company Avanade, who has worked in the cryptocurrency market for eight years and has been in crypto for more than 30 years.
When the investment reached about US$ 47 thousand (of the approximately US$ 89 thousand invested, equivalent to R$ 425 thousand), Aline wanted to rescue it.
“He disappears for two days and then reappears on his cell phone, happy, very happy, very excited. He says that he took his uncle away to England, that his relatives there will take care of him and that he would like to meet me. Soon after, he sends a message. saying that it fell in the triage [de Covid] from the airport and will be quarantined.”
At that moment, Aline started to get nervous because he was unavailable and she couldn’t do the rescue by herself through the app. Jack was sad that he couldn’t help her – more of an emotional manipulation. When contacting customer service, the broker said she had fees and taxes to pay.
“Each time I managed to pay a new fee, and it was very high, like R$30,000, R$45,000, another one arrived. Then there was the waiting list, if I wanted to get ahead, I had to pay another fee .” None of this had been said by Jack.
In all, 37,568 USDT (an acronym for tether, a digital currency pegged to the dollar) were required in fees and taxes, almost BRL 180,000. In order to get her money back, Aline started asking for new credit cards on the market. To pay the bills, she started taking on new debts.
Meanwhile, the virtual relationship began to crumble. “He provoked a meaningless discussion, saying that he was in that situation of supposed fragility, of quarantine, that I didn’t trust him, and he blocked me.”
Aline’s chip dropped. A friend of hers who knows the industry read the entire message history and concluded that it was unusual for her not to be able to unfreeze her own money. When the two contacted customer service, Jack immediately unblocked Aline from WhatsApp.
Jack became evasive in his answers. In the end, Aline had three ways to go: make another deposit, this time equivalent to R$10,000, and withdraw the money; make the deposit and not be able to withdraw the money; seek help from the police.
Aline was taken in at the cyber crimes police station in downtown São Paulo. She filed a police report, but the clerk said it was a scam and raised the possibility that the money was already miles away, making it almost impossible to trace it. Without much hope, she could still open an inquiry to have the case investigated, she explained.
For Thiago Cirino Chinellato, from the Cyber Crimes division of the Civil Police of São Paulo, scams applied in dating apps have some patterns: the person usually says they don’t live in Brazil, steals photos from others on the internet (which is a crime of falsehood) and soon talks about money.
“The link she clicked when downloading the BTX app could also be his cryptocurrency wallet, which he turned into a cold wallet [como se tirasse do sistema blockchain e colocasse num dispositivo físico]making it very difficult to track,” he says.
Scams involving cryptocurrencies on dating apps are called cryptorom (fusion of crypto and romance). In Brazil, the police already configure this type of crime as a “coup of love”.
The case led Aline to a trauma, which is being treated. She is focused on looking for a new job and paying off her debts with the banks. She lives with the help of her brothers until she gets a new post.
From a Google Lens search, it is possible to find the owner of the photo that Jack used on Tinder.
This is Thiago Lazzarato, 37 years old, Brazilian, resident of London. In a message on a social network, he told Folha that other people had already alerted him that profiles were using his photos on Tinder. “I haven’t lived in Brazil for 17 years. I don’t even know how to do BO there.”
Aline showed the reporter other messages she exchanged with a Frenchman named Thomas.
“I came here mainly to examine the market and visit my uncle. I am a businessman and an investor, I invest (sic) mainly in real estate with cryptocurrencies.”
This time, Aline was already vaccinated.
In a statement, Tinder says it regrets the case and has a zero-tolerance policy for this type of behavior.
“We are constantly investing in ways to keep members safe while using Tinder, including a robust set of security features and in-app security education, fraud detection technology, and working directly with law enforcement when needed.”
“We encourage members to report any suspicious behavior directly to us so we can identify, stop and remove criminals before anyone is harmed.”
The company recommends users to look for verified profiles.