March 25, 2024

First of two parts

Cindy Tsai had her stomach removed in January 2021, after having been diagnosed with gastric cancer seven months earlier. Her husband of 16 years, who she hadn’t physically seen for three months before her diagnosis, had also decided to call the marriage quits from his home in Vancouver and never came to visit as she underwent chemo. The cancer came back in September 2021.

In other words, when “Jimmy” first messaged her on WhatsApp on Oct. 15, 2021, she was going through “the most vulnerable time I have ever been in my life.”

“Jimmy” asked her if she was Linda from the pet store. You have the wrong number, she said. But she looks Chinese, he told her, and he’s Chinese, too. The revelation of this shared origin — established through their little icons in the app — kicked off seemingly constant messaging and a relationship took shape.

From playful selfies to magazine-worthy photos of food supposedly cooked at home, Jimmy virtually opened himself up to Tsai and she figured she’d found a new friend who would always be there for her in her time of need.

As Tsai, a lawyer living in Newton, would slowly realize over the course of her three-month online relationship with Jimmy — in which she said she lost $2.5 million — she was one of the 415 victims in 2021 of romance and confidence scams in Massachusetts, according to recently released FBI data. The Bay State suffered the 11th highest rate of internet-related fraud, despite being…

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