Nanaimo Mounties are warning people not to go looking for love in all the wrong places.
March is Fraud Awareness Month, a time of year when the romance scam, Canada Revenue Agency scam and other schemes to defraud the unwary are attempted online and via the telephone and in some cases successfully wreak financial hardship and emotional heartache.
In 2018, various scams bilked hundreds of thousands of dollars from Nanaimo victims, according to police.
“Personally I’ve dealt with and spoken with three or four women who have lost, probably, accumulatively about $200,000,” said Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman.
The victims, O’Brien said, cross all demographics, but victims are often mature to senior widows who have turned to online dating sites or Facebook to seek companionship.
“They have received a friend request or a like on either of the sites,” O’Brien said. “In six to eight weeks they have struck up an online relationship with the men and very soon thereafter love is being professed from their online friend.”
The scam plays out when the con artist makes plans to meet with the victim, perhaps to plan their future together, but as the day for the meeting comes close the scammer claims to have suffered a sudden death in the family, a work or career issue or their money is tied up and suddenly inaccessible for some reason and they request money to help them with their predicament.
“At that point it’s almost too late because the victim feels that they are in love with this individual and it’s very difficult at that point for any family members or any financial institution to dissuade them not to carry through with their plans,” O’Brien said. “We had one woman who took several trips to a bank before the customer representative could convince her she was being swindled. One woman that we dealt with drained all her RRSPs and sent them … over $100,000.”
Women and men fall prey to these schemes and often victims are embarrassed and ashamed they have been duped and do not wish to share their stories with police, say RCMP. According to Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre statistics, less than five per cent of victims report they have been swindled and only 760 incidents from across Canada were reported in 2018 with an average monetary loss, per victim, of $34,000.
Police say people should be suspicious and never send money to someone they’ve never met who professes their love for them, claims to be wealthy, but needs to borrow money or claims to live nearby but works overseas.
If there is concern fraud has been committed, people are advised to gather all information about the incident, report it to police, the financial institution where the money was sent and to the online service the fraud was perpetrated through and contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501 or online at this link.
Fraud victims should also place flags on all of their accounts and report to the incident to Equifax Canada at 1-800-465-7166 and TransUnion at 1-800-663-9980.
Everybody’s looking for that soul mate … we’re gregarious creatures. We want to connect with people. We want to spend our time and share our thoughts and experiences with them and that’s the driving factor behind it,” O’Brien said. “The internet’s a wonderful thing, but it’s extremely dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre website also lists descriptions of the most common frauds and people are asked to report scam attempts to the site. Police use the site to keep abreast of current scams and educate the public.