A Christchurch International student has been scammed out of more than $30,000 after a man tricked her into believing they were dating and encouraged her to hand over cash for him to "invest" in cryptocurrency.
The woman, 28-year-old Christine, thought she had found her match when a handsome man began speaking to her on Facebook in February this year.
Christine said he also claimed to be Chinese, and told her he was a busy, hard-working finance worker that didn't have time for a "real" girlfriend and was scared he'd end up alone.
Throughout their exchanges, she said the man would pretend that she was the only girl he was speaking to and that he cared about her.
"So I think, it's a good thing. Here's someone, a companion with me, because I am alone studying in New Zealand, I sometimes I feel lonely."
Over their few months together, the man would ask how her days were, said he liked her and told her he wanted to be with her.
As well as showing her attention, Christine said he would message her about the significant growth and returns of his bitcoin investments.
"I didn't see anyone in the real life that could do that, so I asked how and I wanted to learn that."
Although she felt a little uneasy about him, she ended up giving him $2000 initially and about a week later he sent her a screenshot that appeared to show her money increasing.
Part of her doubts stemmed from his refusal to send her videos of himself, and when she questioned him about it she said he would get angry and told her "if i want to give it to you [a video] I will, don't force me".
Soon after her initial "investment", he convinced her to give him even more money - a total of around US$22,000, which is about NZ$31,000.
The red flags surrounding the romance increased when he began creating multiple WeChat profiles and pop ups started appearing on the site warning her against sharing her bank details.
"I say what I am thinking [regarding the pop up warnings], and he said oh it's because my job is all about money and that bitcoin is not 'real' money in China so the government forbid it."
When Christine did eventually try to get the money out she claims that he told her that she had to put more money in or she would go into negatives, something known as a margin call.
When she confronted him about what she thought was happening, Christine said he tried to warn her that he was a liar, but part of her still trusted him.
After discovering the truth, she felt depressed and said she cried every day.
In a note seen by the Herald, the woman's doctor asked for her to be allowed an extension on an assignment as in his opinion Christine was "medically unfit".
The student said she also reported the incident to police in Christchurch.
When she realised the deception, Christine found that even the image he'd gone by had been stolen, and he'd assumed the identity of a person on the Chinese TV show 'Little Pop Star'.
New Zealand internet safety organisation Netsafe has recorded a 39 per cent increase in romance scams involving a financial loss between 2019 and 2020.
Chief executive Martin Cocker warned that these type of scams were becoming more frequent, and they are increasingly seeing that crossover between romance and investment scams.
He said there were no "100 per cent" telltale signs for identifying scammers, but that reluctance to provide more open communication, like not going on video, can indicate it's a scammer.
"But there will be times when scammers do those things, so its not a foolproof test."
Although Netsafe sees older New Zealanders losing large chunks of money more often, he said this offending can affect anyone.
On average, the organisation's data shows victims are losing $18,667.
Looking back on her experience, the student believes the worst part wasn't the huge financial cost but the prolonged romantic deception.
Police have been approached for comment.