UAE: How dating app founder almost lost $250,000 in European investment scam

She was promised a funding of $1.75 million; instead she ended up losing $12,000 in travel expenses


Sahim Salim

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Christiana Maxion. Photo: Shihab
Christiana Maxion. Photo: Shihab

Published: Mon 10 Jun 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Mon 10 Jun 2024, 9:53 PM

Maxion, the UAE’s first matchmaking app, was recently offered what its founders thought was a ‘funding’ of $1.75 million. A business trip to Europe and $12,000 in travel expenses later, it emerged that it was all a scam. The company’s executives realised that they were being conned — just before they almost lost $250,000.

Christiana Maxion, tech founder of the AI-powered matchmaking concierge, told Khaleej Times that a Swiss 'advisor' to a wealthy client had emailed her about the investment in April. “What started with an innocent email exchange quickly escalated to a phone call, where the 'advisor' unveiled a promising investment prospect supposedly originating from the girlfriend of a 60-year-old ultra-high-net-worth individual looking to diversify assets before relocating to the UAE,” she said. “We agreed upon a $1.75 million investment … with a $10 million valuation.”

For Christiana, the first warning sign was that the so-called advisors neither asked for financial statements nor did any due diligence. “Maybe I was starry-eyed or wearing rose-tinted glasses because … this added investment would help us scale across the GCC and set us up for acquisition.”

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Christiana and her CFO, Cristina Neculcea, flew to Barcelona with promises of finalising the deal. They met the supposed partners face-to-face for a “very brief meeting about the investment”.

“All went well and they invited us to dinner that night. We met and this is where things got a bit funny; they started mentioning something about a cold ledger and proof of funds.”

They flew back to Dubai and as discussions progressed, red flags emerged. “The 'advisor' introduced the notion of a hefty commission — a staggering $300,000 to be exact — concealed from the investor. Moreover, the insistence on conducting transactions in cryptocurrency raised suspicion.”

Christiana and Cristina Neculcea renegotiated terms to a $250,000 commission. “Yes, this was an extraordinary amount … but the way I saw it was that it was a win-win-win scenario: we gain funding, the investor gains equity, and the advisors gain a commission.”

Unreal demands

The advisors wanted the company to show 'proof of funds' and buy 250,000 USDT (Tether, a cryptocurrency that is pegged to the US dollar).

“Obviously, as a startup, we (didn’t) have that cash on hand, so we refused. They started getting angry with us and (told) us we needed to put the crypto on a USB stick and meet them in Brussels or Amsterdam to close this deal. So, then we started digging and discovered: Fake passports, fake names, fake companies, scam reports, etc. The perpetrators operated under aliases, masquerading with legitimate business licences and fabricated websites. Their tactics ranged from forging investor credentials to pressuring for unorthodox payment methods, including demands for cold wallet transactions.”

The executives are now working on filing a report with Europolice and European Financial and Economic Crime Centre (EFECC).

Since the money they lost was spent on travel, they won’t be able to recover it. “The money and time spent is minimal to the actual impact the true scam would have had on us. All in all, I truly believe sharing this story will help us attract true and honest investment in our seed round,” said Christiana.

Though they didn’t fall for the scam, the company's executives have become “extremely diligent” in the way they move forward with future potential investors.

Maxion claims to expedite the dating process by sending members compatible profiles each week instead of “wasted time swiping from an endless pool of incompatible people”. Once there is a mutual connection, a first date is booked.

“Our seed round funding will help us open our 'Indian Connections' portal and the development of our 'Muslim Marriages' portal to help us enter two more markets before end of year,” added Christiana.


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