Love, Loss, and Pig Butchering Scams

The dating scene in Los Angeles is tough. Doubly so if you’re not fresh out of college. That’s what Evelyn found when a relationship of two decades came to an abrupt end last year, casting her back into the dating pool at 50.

“All the beautiful twentysomethings are here trying to make it in the entertainment business. And men of all ages are trying to date them,” says Evelyn, who asked to appear under a pseudonym. “Even among younger folks, I’m sure it’s hard, but when you’re my age it’s definitely a tougher market.”

Evelyn’s family emigrated from Korea when she was young and lived in various parts of the Los Angeles area. In the early 2000s, she moved with her partner to a leafy suburb in the Hollywood Hills, “an enclave of hippies and music lovers.” Evelyn was just about the only Asian there, but she found the area tranquil.

When the relationship fell apart, Evelyn was forced out of her home and out of early retirement too. It was a terrible period, she says, but returning to dating was a way of “not taking it lying down.” Like many thousands of others, she didn’t feel like going to bars and clubs and turned instead to dating app Hinge. She was nervous—how do you reject someone’s advances politely, she wondered, or tell them you don’t want a second date—but she was eager to try.

One day in late April, she matched with Bruce Zhao, a Chinese man of a similar age who dressed well and had kind eyes. He lived in Sunnyvale, a few hours’ drive up the coast, but he had a second home in Los Angeles. He was sweet, attentive, and not at all aggressive, which was what Evelyn liked most.

The conversation was occasionally stiff—“Good morning, a new month has started, I wish you all the best,” Bruce wrote in one message. “Whether we end up as lovers or friends, I believe we will have more interactions in the future,” he said in another. He had a habit of mansplaining too. But Evelyn found herself wanting to impress. “I felt so rejected from my previous relationship. I just wanted to feel accepted and liked,” she says.

Over the next five weeks, the pair swapped messages over WhatsApp almost every day. Smiley emojis turned to winky ones, then to kissy ones. Though they never met in person and spoke only once over the phone, the terms “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” entered their vocabulary. Just like in the ads, they deleted Hinge together.

Before long, the conversation turned to work. Bruce told her he was a partner at a venture capital firm but ran a crypto trading studio on the side. If Evelyn liked, he could introduce her to investing—starting small, with $4,000? Evelyn said that made her nervous, so they settled on half the amount.

To pull off the trading strategy he had planned, Evelyn would need to use a special crypto exchange, called CEG. Bruce walked her through the process: moving cash from the bank into Coinbase, a regular exchange, then converting that cash into crypto and sending it to CEG. Evelyn was skeptical at first, but to her eye, the website looked legitimate. The layout was neat and the interface well-designed, there was a customer support function, and the feed updated in real time as the value of cryptocurrencies changed.

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