Yik Li was swiping through Hinge in January, looking to connect with some new people.
The 34-year-old Carrollton resident was getting to know a man on the dating app who went by the name “Dillen.” Dillen had a profile that seemed like anyone else on the app — photos of himself cooking, working out and doing other normal things that might cause someone interested in Dallas to swipe right.
He told Li he was from France and operated a wine warehouse in Dallas.
Li took a chance and got to know him. He was actively showing affection, with constant compliments and talk of the future. She wasn’t really looking to date anyone. But things took a turn when she opened up about her investments in cryptocurrency.
Dillen told Li to invest online at coindealst.com, a name closely similar to coindeal.com, a cryptocurrency exchange site located in the Caribbean. All the while, he was love-bombing – an affectionate, yet abusive way of influencing someone in a relationship.
“He introduced me to this website and I was like, maybe I am gonna do a little bit and test the water,” Li said. “I’ll see how the website goes. And so I did.”
The site was appealing because it allowed for short-trading, where Li would make more money in her crypto investment in a short period of time. Li had crypto saved up as a bonus from a previous job and had been trading for nearly four years.
Crypto isn’t Li’s only source of income, just something she does on the side. She did not want to identify her current job, citing company policies about disclosing such information.
Despite her initial doubts, Li put in around $30,000 to start on the site Dillen recommended. All the while, he was sending her messages calling her his “soulmate” with plans for the future.
The next day, Dillen told her to put in more money. She continued to invest in the site. It was relatively easy, and she could see a profit coming her way.
“Even though I’m not a local, I could tell on the website that the English terms were not really 100% authentic,” said Li, who is originally from Hong Kong and has been living in the U.S. for over 14 years.
Her senses were ignoring all of the red flags, Li said, but she ultimately blocked Dillen after becoming suspicious that he wasn’t being honest about his identity.
But she didn’t take her crypto out in time. The website was shut down and Li lost over $200,000 in the five transactions she completed, which was all of her cryptocurrency.
On Feb. 16, Li filed a report with the internet crime complaint center of the FBI, explaining what happened. The FBI would neither confirm nor deny Li’s report, but she showed The Dallas Morning News screenshots of what she submitted to the federal agency.
A manager at CoinDeal, Honorata Motyl, confirmed that the company was aware of the fake site. CoinDeal advises crypto investors to be aware of the following domains that are fraudulent:
Li also tried to report the loss to the Carrollton and Dallas police departments, but both said they could not help her since it was an online scam. She has also reported the situation to Hinge. Hinge did not respond to requests for comment.
She’s far from the only person to fall victim to romance scams. The FBI has reported scams across the nation. From 2016 to 2020, complaints filed with the agency totaled $13.3 billion in losses. In Texas, 489 victims lost over $27 million in investments, according to 2020 data.
Cryptocurrency is the latest trend for a type of scam that transcends geography and generations.
In the Bay Area, the FBI reported more than $64 million in romance scams in 2021. While schemes target all demographics of people, older adults are typically the most targeted group, according to the FBI.
In February, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations launched a five-day digital awareness campaign to remind the public about the dangers of online scams. The campaign runs from February 7 to March 11.
The announcement noted that 2020 was a record year for romance scams and data shows the trend continued into 2021.
Steve Francis, acting executive assistant director of Homeland Security Investigations, said romance scams are targeting new audiences with the rise in online dating apps, social media and messaging apps.
“A year-over-year comparison through the third quarter showed a 48% increase in reported romance frauds,” Francis said in a statement. “[Homeland Security] is committed to investigating and bringing to justice those who prey on innocent victims.”
In Li’s case, Dillen pushed for the two to connect on a messaging app called Line. Li said she can still see his updates on the profile.
Li tried to meet up with Dillen as they were talking, but he was always “too busy.” The two spoke around Valentine’s Day, and he still wouldn’t meet with her.
Li believes Dillen created the fake site himself, but it’s unclear who owned the domain.
Now Li said she wants to speak out for people in situations like hers.
“Victims don’t stand up and talk about their stories because they don’t want people to judge them,” Li said. “But I really want people to think again about the situation.”