Cellmate date: wealthy ex-Chinese convict splashes out US$201,000 on ‘phantom’ girlfriend who turns out to be former prison buddy

Cellmate date: wealthy ex-Chinese convict splashes out US$201,000 on ‘phantom’ girlfriend who turns out to be former prison buddy
  • On release from jail, fraudster cellmate dupes fellow prisoner he befriended behind bars into handing over cash to non-existent ‘girlfriend’
  • Reports of bizarre scam catch the eye of tens of millions of people on mainland social media

A former Chinese convict who splashed out 1.38 million yuan (US$201,000) on an online girlfriend – who declined to meet him in person – after his release from prison was shocked to find that “she” was his former cellmate.

Reports of the bizarre scam, which took place in Xiangtan County in China’s southern province of Hunan, has sparked the interest of millions on mainland social media.

While inside in July 2019, a prisoner, surnamed Zhang, met a fellow inmate and convicted fraudster, surnamed Ma, according to the official media outlet Procuratorate Daily.

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During their time behind bars together, Zhang disclosed to Ma that he came from a wealthy family and the pair became good friends.

Soon after their friendship was cemented both men were released from jail.

Then a person claiming to be Ma’s wife approached Zhang on WeChat, saying that she had heard that Zhang had been single and wanted to introduce him to her “best friend”.

The “best friend”, surnamed Huang, was from a rural area and worked as a hospital nurse, Zhang was told.

Despite never having met Huang, Zhang was very happy. After a few days, Huang started to ask him for money to make credit card payments, buy handbags and make renovations to her home.

Whenever Zhang became suspicious about her requests, Ma’s wife would step in and make excuses for her.

A month later, a man claiming to be Huang’s father also approached Zhang, thanking him for caring for his “daughter”.

By this time Zhang had spent hundreds of thousands of yuan on a woman he had never met.

Although he often received photos and phone calls from his “girlfriend”, he was never allowed to make video calls to her, requests for which were deflected with an array of excuses.

At the end of 2021, Zhang’s suspicious father found out that Ma did not have a wife and Huang did not exist.

By this time Zhang had paid 1.38 million yuan to his “phantom” girlfriend.

Ma was forced to sign a repayment agreement with Zhang, but tried to make repayments by means of other rackets.

In August 2022, Ma was sentenced by the courts to 14 years and six months in prison for fraud.

The story quickly gained attention on Weibo and was reacted to on various levels more than 80 million times.

One online observer said: “It’s true that the people who know you best are the ones you’ve lived with.”

Another joked: “Men know men best.”

Earlier this month, the Post reported on another friendship scam in which a best friend replaced nearly a million yuan worth of luxury goods at her best friend’s house with fakes. She was jailed for 12 years.

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

Copyright (c) 2023. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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