In possibly the oddest news story to have come out of China so far this year, police recently revealed that chat bots posing as bodacious babes have scammed dating app users out of a collective fortune.
The investigation began last August, when Guangdong police picked up on an app asking users to pay to view pornographic videos that, alas, did not exist.
From there, the investigation expanded to apps run in 13 provinces across China. As of January 8, over 600 individuals had been arrested and 21 companies shut down in cities including Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Changsha and Wuhan.
On the dating apps they formerly operated, some of the so-called single women were in fact chat bots programmed to flirt with users, especially ones that were new to the platform.
In at least one case, Sixth Tone reports, app users could exchange a few messages with a 'sexy' bot before being asked to upgrade to VIP status for RMB200. Once they forked over the money, they could continue chatting, with some caveats – the bots would continue to attempt to lure users into topping up their accounts or sending virtual gifts of up to RMB1,000.
If a user asked to meet in person, though, it was game over: the chat bot would block them.
Although it seems farfetched, the bots were able to con enough unsuspecting users to make a hefty profit. Police estimate that some 100,000 were scammed every day, handing over a total of 1 billion yuan to the fraudulent app companies.
The assets of the companies, valued at 100 million yuan, have since been frozen.