Falling in love is a beautiful thing, according to Ontario Provincial Police. Falling victim is not.
That’s the underlying message from police after a Huron County senior lost $700,000 in a so-called romance scam.
“It’s a staggering amount of money,” said Const. Jamie Stanley with Huron County OPP. “In my time as a police officer, I think that’s the most that I’ve seen for a particular victim in this particular type of scam.”
Investigators became aware of the incident Wednesday afternoon through the victim’s daughter, said Stanley.
Early stages of the investigation have revealed the victim met the alleged scammer online in 2018 through a popular social media messenger service.
Police say someone claimed to be a surgeon working for the United Nations and at one point used a ruse that he had been abducted by a terrorist entity and needed some money to pay off his ransom. Money was also sent to help with surgeries, medical treatment, international flights and other emergencies, according to police.
“The prospects of getting that money back are going to be very difficult,” said Stanley. “I mean, we’re going to try our best. We’ve involved our Huron County OPP Crime Unit but at the end of the day, I mean, there’s a high chance that this person will not get their money back.”
Hundreds duped in 2020
Statistics from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre reports that in 2020 the agency received almost 900 complaints about romance scams and 620 victims lost more than $18.5 million to predators pretending to be in love.
Police said many victims develop a strong emotional attachment to the scammer that overrides sound judgment.
“The online bond these scammers form with their victim is very real. In many cases victims are in complete denial and will continue to send money until there’s nothing left to give, even though they’ve been warned by family, banking officials and even police.”
Police said it’s common that the scammer appears to be a successful individual who suddenly runs into unexpected difficulties that require urgent financial help.
How to protect yourself
OPP issued a list of red flags to prevent becoming a victim:
- Be suspicious when someone you have never met in person professes their love to you.
- If trying to set up an in-person meeting, be suspicious if they always have an excuse not to meet.
- Do not share personal or financial information with anyone you have just met online or in person.
- Be cautious when conversing with an individual that claims to live close to you but is working overseas.
- Never under any circumstance send money for any reason.
- Never send intimate photos or videos of yourself as they may be used to blackmail you.
One additional tip; if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is.