MANILA - A mother of two lost P45,000 in an Internet scam wherein an alleged suitor purportedly sent her valuables including cash in exchange for her payment for "Customs duties."
Even worse, she is now fearful that the criminal group will implicate her in similar scams.
Speaking to radio DZMM, Chinita Roxas said she fell victim to the scam after an alleged foreigner, identified only as Robert Garrison, befriended her on Facebook last June 2014.
She said she accepted Garrison's friend request because the alleged Scotsman posted many photos and had many friends in the social networking site.
Roxas admitted she became smitten with the alleged Internet suitor who was always saying good things to her.
"Araw-araw kami magka-chat sa Facebook. Umaga at gabi...Nagkapalagayan kami ng magandang loob. Tapos nanligaw siya sa akin. Tapos sabi niya sa akin swerte ang pagdating ko sa kanya dahil nga nagkaroon daw siya ng magandang contract tapos nagkaroong siya ng award," she said in the DZMM interview.
Roxas said Garrison promised to send her a package containing a laptop, iPhone, a diamond ring, Gucci watch and perfume.
He also e-mailed a receipt supposedly showing that the package had been sent to her address.
After a few days, the alleged secretary of a shipping company called her up to say that the package had arrived.
The only catch: Roxas had to shell out P45,000 in "Customs duties" that the suitor allegedly failed to pay.
The secretary also hinted that the package could also contain 45,000 British pounds cash.
"Naniwala po kami kasi hawak na namin yung resibo at yung mga anak ko ay tuwang-tuwa din. Yun na nga po yung pangarap namin na magkaroon ng kaunting business para daw umangat na ang buhay," she told radio DZMM.
Thinking that they would get more in return, Roxas decided to borrow money to pay for the alleged Customs duties.
She said she told her son to borrow P45,000 from his boss, with the promise that they would it pay back immediately.
"Ang anak ko pumunta sa amo niya dala-dala yung papeles ko kaya nabigyan siya ng pera. Yung amo nagpapautang talaga yun pero may interes. Kargador [lang ang anak ko]," she said.
Roxas deposited P43,800 to the BDO account of a certain John Allen Roque, who was allegedly the manager of the shipping company.
After the deposit, the secretary said the package would arrive the following day.
When the package did not arrive, Roxas called up the secretary who had now changed her tone from beseeching to threatening.
The secretary said the package was held up at Customs because it contained an envelope that might contain illegal drugs.
"Nung 11 wala pa yung package, tinawagan ko yung sekretarya. Bakit wala pa yung package? Sabi niya: 'Pasensiya na, Ma'm, kasi na-hold sa Customs yung package niyo. Kasi may na-detect daw sa package na may envelope. Sana wag naman pong drugs yun. Makasuhan kayo malaki kung totoo yun,'" Roxas recounted the secretary as saying.
She said the secretary demanded to know what was inside the package that Garrison supposedly sent. When she said the package contained valuables, she said the secretary now demanded P100,750 in payment "or they would be forced to open the package and turn over the contents to the Bureau of Internal Revenue."
Roxas said she was at her wit's end about the package since she could no longer produce the money to get it from the company.
She said Garrison was also calling her up and demanding that she pay the Customs duties. "Nagagalit din siya sa akin bakit di ko binayaran," she said.
She said she asked Garrison to help her pay the duties but the Internet suitor only gave excuses. Garrison's Facebook account was later deactivated.
During the radio DZMM interview, Roxas talked like a woman seeing a ghastly future ahead.
"Naputulan na ho kami ng tubig. Yung kuryente nabayaran ng anak kong babae," she said.
She said she counts her experience as a lesson that she will not forget easily. For one thing, they now have to pay the P45,000 they borrowed from her son's boss.
"P45,000 kasama pa yung interes nun. Ang sweldo po ng anak ko ay P350 a night. Ngayon, wala na po siyang sinasahod dahil inuunti unti niyang bayaran yun. Wala po akong trabahio sa bahay lang. Yung 2 anak ko ngayon lang sila nagta-trabaho. Yung isa may asawa na," she said.
"Ito po ay parang naging aral na rin sa akin. Parang pagsubok lang ng Diyos ito sa amin, kaya lang po yung inutang ng anak ko na pera, kailangan naming bayaran...Ang gusto ko lang ay maibalik ang pera na hiniram ng anak ko."
IMPLICATED IN OTHER CRIMES
Aside from the massive debt, there are other possibilities that could give Roxas sleepless nights.
According to Senior Inspector Joanna Fabro of the Philippine National Police Cybercrime Division, criminals using Internet love scams do not usually claim that packages were being held up by local Customs bureaus.
"This case is different because past cases would use Customs of Malaysia or other countries," she told radio DZMM.
She said Roxas went to the Customs bureau to check if indeed a package in her name was not released there. No such package was received by the bureau, officials said.
Fabro said the use of the Bureau of Customs could be one way to convince victims that the transaction is legitimate. "Sila din sa Customs nagtataka na may kasong ganito na lumalabas. Kasi nga naman kung iyong oobserbahan, medyo mahigpit ang Customs," she said.
The PNP official said Roxas's case is typical of other victims who have fallen prey to so-called Internet love scams. The Bureau of Customs has so far listed 44 victims of the Internet love scam in Manila this year.
In the scam, perpetrators get in touch with prospective victims online via chat, dating websites or social networking sites. After constantly communicating online for several weeks or even months, the perpetrators would send a message to their victims through email, promising to send gifts ranging from luxury bags, jewelry, laptop computers and other electronic gadgets via international door-to-door parcel.
The unsuspecting victims would then be given a tracking number and invoice for the supposed shipment.
A few days after, they would receive an email or a phone call informing them that packages would be sent to them after they pay duties and taxes to be deposited in a designated bank account or money transfer service.
However, after depositing the money, the victims would never get their packages.
"Ganyan po talaga ang modus na ito. Kasi nakikita nila na very vulnerable tayo dun sa magkaka-boyfriend ka na puti. Medyo masyadong mataas ang tingin natin sa mga ganun. Hindi pa rin nawawala yun. May dating ba o yung makakatulong sa atin, yung yung pinaramdam kay Madam," Fabro said.
Fabro said another detail that is bothersome about Roxas's case is that the alleged suitor said he would open a bank account including checking account in Roxas's name.
"They got her personal details and they opened an account for her in a bank. We told her to verify with the bank if she does have an account," the official said.
"Maaaring gamitin ang account. Baka at the end of the day, siya pa ang may kasalanan sa ibang transaction. Gusto natin siya ay pumunta dun sa bangko na yan at tignan kung may checking account nga kasi pati yung password binigay sa kanya, yung PIN niya sa account na yun. So most probably na open yung account."