Romance Scammer Cheats Ontario Senior Out of $400,000

8 June 2015

In what local authorities are saying is the most expensive scam of its type they’ve ever seen, a senior citizen in Brantford, Ontario, has been cheated out of about $400,000 by a romance scammer in a single year.

This blog has previously reported on the increasing prevalence of romance scams in Canada. As more people use online dating to find love, scammers are coming out of the woodwork to find easy targets for their schemes. Much of the time, these end up being senior citizens and others who don’t know enough about the internet to keep themselves safe.

In the Brantford case, an elderly woman began interacting with what she believed to be a legitimate profile on an online dating service in 2014. She developed an intimate relationship with the man behind the profile that reportedly included all the trappings you would expect in a romance. The victim and the scammer talked daily for almost a year, exchanging more than 400 emails and numerous photos and instant messages. He gained her trust by telling her that he had ties to Hamilton, Ontario, which she was also familiar with.

“It seemed like a real relationship. If [the victim] was having a bad day, the fraudster would do a follow up to see how she was doing,” said Constable Natalie Laing of the Brantford Police Service.

However, after a few months of setting the stage by providing consistent emotional support to his supposed sweetheart, the scammer decided to put his plan into action. He began requesting money, saying that he was in the hospital suffering from malaria, then that he had been robbed and needed money to replace his stolen items. The victim trusted his intentions and sent him everything he asked for. Finally, she realized she was being scammed when he requested money to come to Canada and live with her, then never showed up. All told, she lost about $400,000 to the scam, wiring the money to different bank accounts in the U.K. and Ghana.

“The suitor spun a web of deceitful tales while continuously reassuring the victim of his devotion and undying love for her,” the police wrote in their news release on the incident.

“It tugged at her heartstrings. She’s a very compassionate woman,” Laing added.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) estimates that Canadians lost more than $13 million to romance scams last year, and they show no sign of slowing down. These scams can lead to identity theft and credit fraud if personal information is given to the scammers. If you use online dating services, keep track of these signs of fraud:

  • Asking to move to IM quickly. Instant message conversations are less likely than phone conversations or messages on websites to be traced by police and other authorities.
  • Claiming vague connections to places near you. If someone claims to be from your hometown, ask them questions about it that would be hard to look up online to verify their story. Many fraudsters claim to be from near where their victims live to gain their trust.
  • Asking for money when you’ve never met. Essentially any request for money that’s made online before you even meet the person is highly suspicious.

To keep track of certain activities on your credit file that may indicate fraud, sign up for a credit monitoring service.