Romance scams a sure way to lose your heart and your wallet | #datingscams | #lovescams

A cautionary tale from one who’s been scammed, and reminders on how to avoid becoming a victim of the myriad online and phone scams now circulating.

Yvette (last name withheld) is a typical target for romance scammers. The 62-year-old retired nurse has had a rough couple of years, losing her longtime husband to cancer and then an ex after that. “I was an absolute mess, losing two partners within 18 months and then being in a car accident,” said Yvette, who now lives with and cares for her elderly parents in St. Albert. “Life gets the better of you when you’re emotionally and physically drained. I was ripe for the picking.”

To ease her loneliness during COVID-19, Yvette, like many, turned to online dating sites to connect with others. Over a couple of years, two scammers each took Yvette for several thousand dollars, promising love and companionship but ultimately, just emptying her pocketbook.

Though Yvette’s is a cautionary tale, she’s not alone.

Online scams skyrocketing across Alberta

Social Catfish, a U.S.-based search company that helps users around the world verify online identities, recently released a study on the surge of online scams in Canada after analyzing five years of data (2017-21) from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

The study commissioned by shows Canada is experiencing an unprecedented number of online scams with a record $380 million stolen in 2021, more than double the 2020 numbers. Alberta victims lost the second most country-wide, losing an average of $2,970 per victim over the last five years. Those aged 60-69 lost the most of all age groups.

President of Social Catfish, David McClellan, calls the rapid growth of online scams in Canada and around the world, “alarming. Since COVID-19, our traffic has skyrocketed with Canadians trying to confirm if the person they are speaking to online is real or not.”

And how are scammers finding their victims? The study shows the three biggest scams are investment ($165 million lost), romance ($134 million), and extortion ($54 million).

Lonely seniors most vulnerable to romance scams

For Yvette, a determination to believe the best in people made her overlook the red flags with her suitors. With ‘Charles’, a supposed U.S. Army Colonel, Yvette was promised they’d meet at his home in the Florida Keys. Plans changed suddenly, with Charles saying he then had to go to Syria on a one-year mission. Soon after, a message came that Charles was detained abroad and needed Yvette to send thousands to get him out of trouble. Despite her following up with the United Nations and even a lawyer in that country, the scammer always had an excuse, Yvette remembers, and instead accused her of not trusting him.

“He said all the right things; made me feel important,” admitted Yvette, who even asked to borrow money from her daughter to send to the fraudster. “I had already sent $5,000 when my daughter checked Charles’ driver’s license and found it to be a forgery. You’re so taken in–I liked this guy. How could he hurt me like that?”

Yvette finally reached out to Social Catfish, which found Charles’ image led to an online address in Ghana. “I was devastated. He still messages me now, saying he loved me, how could I turn on him, how are my parents–all the things you’d want a partner to say.”

Yvette says has helped with support and resources, encouraging her to cut off all contact. In hindsight, Yvette says she knows she ignored things like Charles’ poor grammar in emails and texts, and how his temper would flash, saying ‘send me the damn money, I know you have it’, when she questioned him.

Yvette was scammed yet again during the pandemic, by an online paramour who said he was going to China and needed $7,500. “I’ve sold vehicles to get the money to give to these scammers,” she admitted. “This time, I even called the Canadian Embassy in China, paid for an interpreter, hunted him down in hospital–I believe them, which is probably why I was an excellent nurse. I truly care about people–I’d give my last piece of bread to someone in need.”

As such, Yvette knows she’s still vulnerable to such scams, with common sense going out the window when emotions take over.

“I still feel young. I still want to go out and have fun. I used to teach ballroom dance–I’d wear high heels to the Big Valley Jamboree,” Yvette said. “I don’t want to live life alone but it’s so prevalent–getting scammed on these sites, even ones you have to pay for, like Silver Singles and eharmony–even at speed dating events. But where else will I meet people? At church? Curling or at bowling leagues?”

“I’ve gotten better at challenging the men I meet online, but I still feel optimistic about it all, because I met my first husband online and we were together 16 years. But I’m extremely cautious now. The men all say they live here, so I ask about local landmarks, where they work; I ask to meet them in person–and don’t send money. Not anymore.”

Yvette says she now belongs to a few online groups dedicated to uncovering romance scammers to help keep her from becoming a victim yet again. 

Grandparents scam, investments and extortion: other common scams

Edmonton Police have highlighted other scams making the rounds, including the so-called grandparents (or emergency) scam. Scammers pretend to be a grandchild just in a car crash, for example, and in need of quick cash.

“Scammers find information from publicly available sources. Certain demographics just don’t have numbers in phone books, while seniors may still tend to have their home number in an accessible place,” said Cpl. Sean Milne of the Alberta Federal Serious and Organized Crime Unit.

“The money lost is life changing in many instances. These people are often seniors on a fixed income, and to assist a family member they will go above and beyond.”

Police offer the following reminders to help the public avoid becoming a victim of an emergency-type scam:

  •  If a person claims to be a police officer or judge, call that police service directly to confirm the situation – police and courts will never demand cash be picked up in person or mailed.
  •  Never give out personal information over the phone or online to someone you don’t know—the police or courts will not ask for personal information over the phone.

Anyone who believes they have been the victim of a grandparent scam should call the Edmonton Police Service at 780-423-4567 or their local police department. As well, call the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501.

Senior Fraud Alert, created by the YEG Seniors Alliance and funded by the Edmonton Community Foundation, is also an excellent resource to keep seniors abreast of the latest scams and how to help prevent them happening to you or a loved one. See for more.

The 3 Biggest Online Scams in Canada and How to Avoid Them: 

 1)     Investment Scams – Cybercriminals will offer once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunities via email and social media that promise high rates of return at little to no risk. Once you “invest” you never see your money again. 

 How to AvoidResearch the person and company and consult a third-party financial expert. 

 2)     Romance Scams – Scammers target online singles on dating apps and social media sites and shower them with love and affection to earn their trust. Then they begin asking for money for ’emergencies’.

How to Avoid Do not give money to anyone if they will not meet in person.

3)     Extortion Scams – Fake RCMP emails are in heavy circulation accusing people of criminal charges. They tell them to respond to a fake law enforcement email address where they ask for payment and other personal information to avoid going to jail.

Another scam now circulating sees phone callers saying they’re doing a customer satisfaction survey for a utility company. By the end of the call, scammers ask for a credit card number.

 How to Avoid: Never give your credit card information to such a query, no matter how legit it sounds. If someone claims to be RCMP remember, law enforcement will never demand payment or threaten arrest by email or phone.

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