A man claiming to be a Russian astronaut in space allegedly scammed a Japanese woman into paying for his return trip to Earth, vowing to marry her once he landed.
The man found the 65-year-old unnamed victim on Instagram in June. On his profile, he uploaded random photos of space and said he worked at the International Space Station, where astronauts have limited access to cell service.
Their relationship quickly escalated. On LINE, a Japanese messaging app, he repeatedly said he loved her and proposed marriage. He sent her messages like “I want to start my life in Japan” and “Saying this 1,000 times won’t be enough, but I’ll keep saying it. I love you,” news outlet TV Asahi reported.
But to actually tie the knot, he said, he needed money to return to Earth. There were landing fees to pay once in Japan and the cost of a rocket to actually fly to the country, he said.
Believing this man would be her future fiancé, the woman paid him about 4.4 million yen (about $30,000) in five installments, from August 19 to September 5, the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun reported.
But when his demands continued, the woman grew suspicious of his intent and reported him to the police, who are investigating the case as a romance scam, local media reported.
Romance scams, when a criminal creates a fake online identity to gain a victim’s trust to dupe them into sending them money, have been increasing in Japan.
Though Japanese police do not collect data specific to romance scams, the number of fraud cases—which includes romance scams—rose from 8,693 in 2012 to 14,498 last year, a nearly 67 percent increase over 10 years. The number of reports peaked in 2017 with 18,212 cases and appeared to have declined afterward, though the police have reported an uptick since 2020.