THUNDER BAY – An unfortunate reality of the online dating world is that romance scams continue to cause victims severe financial hardship and take a toll on their emotional well-being. That emotional embarrassment reduces the number of times this crime is reported to police.
Members of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Anti-Rackets Branch, Ontario’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and their fraud prevention partners say criminals use romance scams to seek potential victims online. Victims are generally single or recently unattached people including seniors. This form of mass marketing fraud usually occurs through singles and dating-related websites, social media platforms or e-mail blasts. In some cases, prolonged interaction leads to a feeling of ‘love’ with individuals that has cost some victims hundreds of thousands of dollars before the ‘relationship’ ends, usually without ever meeting in person.
According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre , the Romance scam generated 376 complaints in 2018 and claimed 275 victims in Ontario who lost almost $12 million. This is almost half of the total Canadian loss. The actual number is likely greater as police admit 95 per cent of these crimes go unreported.
According to the SFO, a recently-unattached senior fell victim to a romance scam. During an eight month period, the victim transferred money 19 times from his local bank to an account in Malaysia. The victim believed he was sending his money to a woman who he had met online. The suspect claimed she was from the Toronto area, but was in Australia on business. The perpetrator had coached the victim on what to say to the bank and further told the victim not to tell anyone about her, as she wanted to surprise everyone with their relationship after she returned to Canada. Based on the falsehood of ‘love’, the victim hid the relationship and the money transfers from his family. The loss of his life savings and significant debt totalled more than $700,000.
As part of the annual Fraud Prevention Month campaign, the OPP, SFO and its partners at the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre have some tips to help you avoid becoming a victim of the Romance scam.
- Don’t give out any personal information in an email or when you are chatting online. Educate yourself. Check the person’s name, employment information and the addresses used.
- Ask yourself – ‘Would someone I have never met really declare their love for me after only a few letters or emails?’ The answer should be no.
- Never send money, or give personal credit card or online account details to anyone you do not know and trust. A request to send money to a foreign country to someone you have never personally met should be a ‘red flag’ — no matter how convincing they are.
- Do not send intimate photos to anyone online as they could be used for blackmail.
- If you suspect a loved one is being victimized, talk to them about the warning signs.
If you or someone you know suspect they’ve been a victim of the Romance Scam, contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre or your local police service.
“Recognize, Reject and Report Fraud”
During the month of March, the OPP, SFO and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre partners — the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Competition Bureau of Canada are joining police services across the country to help prevent all Canadians from becoming victims of fraud. The OPP is posting tips and links to various resources online to help the public recognize, reject and report fraud on social media by using the hashtags #FPM2019 #DontBeAVictim and #OPPtips.