“We get calls from victims of romance fraud, and their stories are heart-breaking,” says Cst. Nadine Swist, who works in the EPS Economic Crimes Unit. “In some cases, they’ve not only lost their life savings, but their homes as well.”
Fraudsters commit crimes of confidence. They don’t just steal your money, they gain your trust first and they take your money. In Romance Scams, they take advantage of those who are looking for love; they play upon the victim’s emotions to steal their money. Victims of both sexes come in shapes and sizes and ages.
Prime hunting grounds are any and all dating sites, even those that require members to pay a fee. Social networking sites are popular as well.
“These criminals are heartless; they’ll say whatever it takes to make the victim trust them. They ‘fall in love’ quickly, using terms of endearment right off the bat,” notes Swist. “And, of course, the photo you see on-line isn’t them: it’s a photo of an attractive person that they simply plucked off the internet.”
Quite often, they work out of a call centre, a room filled with men and women working on numerous victims simultaneously. These centres are not usually located in North America.
Once a relationship has been established, they’ll sometimes get a third party to chat with the victim. This party would gush about how happy they are that their loved one has found the perfect partner.
Signs to watch for
• They often move the conversation off of the dating site and to your personal e-mail, text, or phone
• They’ll say they’re overseas
• They want to meet you, but:
• they have a financial burden
• their funds are frozen
• they’ve lost their passport
• they can’t pay for a ticket to come and visit.
They ask for money
They’ll ask if you can ‘lend’ them money so they can come and visit. They’ll even insist that they’ll pay you back.
“Sometimes, after the victim has sent some money, the criminal will come up with heart-rending sob story, compelling them to ask for more. They’ll keep doing this until the victim either refuses the requests, or runs out of money,” says Swist.
How to protect yourself
Constable Swist advises that you ask the person provide a unique photo with cues in it that you will recognize. For instance, you might ask them to post a photo of themselves holding a blue mug and a red pen. If they can’t do that, that’s not a good sign.
Use the internet to your advantage. “Google” the name and the email they give you and see what you can find out.
The most important thing is to never send money to someone you’ve never met. And if you do send money, accept that you will never see that money again. Trust your gut: if it doesn’t feel right, then don’t get involved . . . period.
If someone sounds too good to be true, they probably are not for real. Literally anyone can be a target.