A 65-year-old woman in Japan paid the equivalent of $30,000 in a recent online scam that defied gravity. The con artist tricked the woman into believing he was a Russian astronaut who just couldn’t afford a ticket back to Earth, local media in Japan reported.
The pair started corresponding through Instagram on June 28, and the scammer claimed that he was a cosmonaut on board the International Space Station (ISS). He blamed the poor cell service aboard the orbiting space station for his lack of communication at times. Things between them quickly escalated when the fake astronaut professed his love to her, claiming that he would want to marry her once back on Earth. Except there was one problem, he simply could not get off the ISS unless he had enough money for a ride back to Earth.
In order to rendezvous with her online lover, the woman ended up sending him 4.4 million yen (about $30,000) so that he could hop on a rocket and leave the microgravity environment behind, Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun reported. However, even long-distance love has a price limit, and the victim soon grew tired of the astronaut’s increasing monetary demands. After making a total of five money transfers between August 19 and September 5, she finally reported him to the police.
The victim was sold on the pictures of space the self-proclaimed astronaut put up on his Instagram page, and the fact that he could namedrop space agencies like NASA and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency). But everything else about his story was inaccurate, starting with the fact that the ISS has no cell service. Instead, astronauts use the so-called Space Network, a network of communications satellites and ground-based antennas, to transmit data back to Earth. So, they likely do not spend their time scrolling on Instagram. The ISS also does not work like an airport, where you need to book a ticket to return back to Earth. Space agencies like NASA pay about $50-55 million to get one of its astronauts up to the ISS and, more recently, private astronauts can pay for their own tickets to board the station. That price, however, does include a return trip back to Earth.