Aaron Aziz dragged into love scam; his photos used to con Portugal woman of money
Aaron Aziz has become the latest local celebrity to have his social media images and videos misused in a love scam.
Ms Flavia Pinto, a 40-year-old unemployed single mum of two from Portugal, e-mailed The Straits Times last week, alleging she was cheated of €600 (S$880) by the married Malaysia-based Singaporean actor.
She says she started conversing with a man named "Aaron" on March 16, and they communicated over WhatsApp messages and three video calls using the chat translator. She was also sent photos of Aaron Aziz.
The man told her he lives in Russia and his mobile phone number starts with the country code for Russia. He claimed he was separated from his wife and had two children who were going to study in London.
He also said he loved her and promised to move to Portugal to marry her and live with her at the end of April. She fell hard for him during their one-month online romance.
The man then told Ms Pinto he sent a package containing "very important papers" to Portugal as he wanted to open a business there. He requested that she help him pay a logistics company for it to be released, and she transferred €600.
When she unsuccessfully asked "Aaron" for repayment and threatened to call the police on April 11, he blocked her the next day.
When she trawled the Internet searching for him, she stumbled upon Aaron Aziz and recognised him from the pictures she received and became convinced the latter duped her.
Ms Pinto says: "This story is very confusing for me, too, and I don't know what to think anymore. I am a poor, humble and honest person; I have my children who need to eat. I just want my money back, nothing else."
When contacted about the allegations, Aaron, 46, denied any involvement.
He says this is the most extreme example of someone using a fake profile of him to commit fraud, and he will be making a police report.
The pictures Ms Pinto received were ripped from his old Instagram posts as well as screenshots from his live videos from two years ago.
He tells The Straits Times: "Of course I feel angry and upset, but I'm not surprised this kind of thing is happening.
"Yet, I don't know how it's even possible that I did video calls with her. It's scary obviously, but there's nothing we can do about it. It's the new norm."
It was previously reported that local singer-composer Dick Lee had been approached by about 10 women claiming they fell victim - or nearly did - to online love scams in which his pictures were used.
Actors Romeo Tan and Desmond Tan also found themselves embroiled in similar scams.
Aaron is no stranger to other fraudulent stunts in Malaysia.
He has warned his 3.3 million Instagram followers of scammers who misuse his live-video footage to sell products or publicise giveaways and schemes unrelated to him.
However, Aaron says that, at the end of the day, "the individual must be smart enough to analyse and don't act so quickly".
He adds that artistes in Singapore and Malaysia are more accessible these days because of social media and it is easy to verify claims directly with them.
"If anyone out there gets a request from a celebrity asking for money, all they need to do is direct-message them and ask if it's true."
Aaron's wife Diyana Halik, 40, also feels a police report is necessary.
In the past week, she received two hate e-mails from the same sender telling her to "let Aaron go", and experienced "anxiety" over it.
It was the first time in 19 years of marriage that she has been targeted.
Around the same time, Aaron's Wikipedia page was tampered with, with the word "fake" added to his occupation and his wife's name changed to "Anna Lydia".
Ms Diyana says: "It's like one thing after another. We just feel attacked."
She adds: "It's crazy because if (Ms Pinto) is telling the truth, then it's really unfortunate and I pity her.
"But if she's not, then this is another example of someone trying to get to us directly and create trouble.
"Lastly, I am worried because this sounds like an overseas hacking and at a totally different level. It's like you are being watched by people outside Malaysia and they are building a storyline by scrolling through photos and videos from years ago to cheat others."