Despite the ongoing efforts of Islamic political parties to criminalize sex outside of marriage, Indonesians are still flocking to online dating apps in search of intimate encounters, making them enticing prey for scammers.
A female student and her male friend were arrested last month in South Sulawesi province for running an online prostitution scam in which men paid for sex that never eventuated.
Silvana Chichilia Umbingo (23), who was in her final semester of apothecary studies at Hasanuddin University in Makassar city, and her unemployed friend Hamka Andi Anwar alias Koko (29) were nabbed in a sting operation on January 12.
Police said the pair started operating in December 2016 and duped over a dozen men through social media accounts that Koko created on WhatsApp and Twitter. The accounts featured alluring photos of young women and had usernames such as Makassar Escort. They offered short-time sex for Rp1 million (US$74) and long-time sex for Rp3 million (US$222). The precise durations of the two categories were unspecified, but local media reports say short-time is about 90 minutes, while long-time means four hours or more.
When potential customers made contact, they would talk to Silvana, who posed as a seductive freelance prostitute and insisted on an advance deposit of at least Rp500,000 via ATM or online transfer. Some victims paid the full fee in advance. As soon as the money was received, Koko would block the man’s number and Twitter account. The scammers assumed their victims would be too ashamed to complain to police. Every couple of months, Koko closed the social media accounts and then started afresh with new accounts, usernames and images.
The police’s cyber crime unit conducted a sting after receiving a complaint from one of the victims. An undercover police officer transferred Rp1 million for sex but was then unable to contact the “escort”. Police said they used special equipment to locate Silvana through her phone number.
She was arrested at her rented room. She told police where to find her accomplice, who was then nabbed at a hotel. Koko said they had managed to con at least 15 men and had spent most of the ill-gotten money.
The two now face charges under the Pornography Law, which makes it a crime to offer or advertise sexual services. They also face charges under the Information and Electronic Transactions Law for deliberately spreading false information that resulted in consumer losses via electronic transfers. If tried and convicted, they could face up to six years in jail.
A spokesman for Hasanuddin University said Silvana could face expulsion for her actions. She had previously studied at Sam Ratulangi University in Manado, North Sulawesi, where she co-authored a paper on methods for detecting formaldehyde (an illegal preservative) in chicken meat.
In Kendari, East Java, a young man named Cosum was desperate for a sexual liaison. A friend advised him to try the BeeTalk dating app. He downloaded it and was pleasantly surprised to find dozens of beautiful women in his local area. No one told him that many of the “women” were actually male pimps and scammers.
Cosum contacted a “woman” with the username Jessy and asked if they could be friends. She inquired if he would like “short-time” friendship for Rp1.5 million or a “long-time” encounter for Rp2.5 million. Not being wealthy, Cosum haggled and they agreed to a fee of Rp1 million.
Jessy then instructed Cosum to contact her manager, Rio, to finalize the booking. He telephoned Rio, who told him to transfer the money and then to take the transfer slip to Hotel Horison, where he would be taken to Jessy’s room.
Cosum dutifully transferred the money to a BCA account in the name of Yulius Kambuno. He then went to the hotel and waited. Jessy sent a few messages telling him to keep waiting, but she then ceased contact. Reception staff knew nothing of Rio, Jessy or Yulius. Realising he had been conned, Cosum urged other men not to be fooled by “women” on BeeTalk.
Online dating scammers do not only target desperate men. Nathan (34) from Jember in East Java used the popular dating app Tinder to meet women whom he promised to marry, only to then extract loans or steal from them.
He started using Tinder in 2015, targeting single, affluent women. Although unemployed, he claimed to work for state oil and gas company Pertamina. He sometimes wore a uniform of safety overalls to suggest he did outdoor engineering work.
After matching with a victim on Tinder, he would request her phone number and then use the WhatsApp messaging service to continue seducing her. Next, he would propose a meeting and marriage. After gaining women’s trust, he was able to steal their smartphones, laptops and even a car. He also asked for loans that he never repaid.
In August 2017, he matched with a civil servant, Mawar (not her real name), who lived in Bogor, south of Jakarta. After exchanging phone numbers, their romance blossomed via WhatsApp, and Nathan travelled to Jakarta for a meeting. Mawar accepted his marriage proposal and allowed him to drive her around in her Honda Brio hatchback. Three days later, Nathan disappeared with the car.
Mawar went to police, who arrested Nathan in November in Cirebon, West Java, at the home of his next intended victim. Police said he had scammed at least ten women in Jakarta, Cirebon, Jogjakarta, Semarang, Surabaya and Malang. He often took his victims to restaurants but always had an excuse about being temporarily unable to access funds, so the women footed the bill.
Although Nathan was preying on the gullibility of lonely women, he used various amulets and charms, claiming they gave him supernatural powers. Police said he carried a talisman called bulu perindu (literally, hair that causes longing), which is a piece of supposedly enchanted grass from Kalimantan. It resembles a strand of string and is reputed to make the holder irresistible to the opposite sex.
Police said Nathan also used traditional keris daggers, as well as a baju ontoseno – a magical shirt that supposedly enables the wearer to fly and disappear. Fortunately, the head of Jakarta Police’s automobile theft unit, Antonius Agus, said police investigators do not believe in the occult, and that Nathan duped his victims solely through chicanery.
An Affair to Forget
A 50-year-old married woman in Cinere, south of Jakarta, three months ago embarked on a secret affair with a man half her age only for him to end up attacking and robbing her.
Police said Esta Puspawati often invited Muhammad Bima to her apartment at the Cinere Bellevue Suites when her husband was away. On February 1, Bima contacted Esta on the pretext of wanting to repay a loan and collecting a pair of shoes he had left with her as collateral. She summoned him to the apartment and asked him to stay for lunch. After eating, they argued and Bima struck her on the head five times with an ornamental rock. He took her Samsung S5 and S7 smartphones, and her purse containing cash and credit cards. He then locked her inside and fled.
Esta used the intercom system to call for help from security guards. They broke open her door and rushed her to hospital, where staff called her husband, who contacted police. The following morning, Bima was arrested at a relative’s house in Pamulang, South Tangerang.
Police said Bima had purchased a motorbike with money he obtained from Esta. He now faces five years in jail for assault and theft. Police said Esta had learned her lesson to be more cautious.
While small-time love scammers are often caught, little effort is being made to stop those seeking to control the private lives of consenting adults. Abstention may be safer than caution.