Let’s get this out of the way. Yes, YOU can be duped.
According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, in 2019, they received 972 complaints related to romance scams, which included close to 700 victims who lost over $19 million to scammers pretending to be in love.
“Scammers are ruthless and hurtful. They take everything the individual has worked hard for – they’ll target those nearing retirement and take their nest egg,” Uschi Riruako, Assistant Branch Manager at Westoba’s 1st and McTavish branch in Brandon explains. “One individual lost their retirement savings entirely.”
In her 10 years in the financial services, Uschi has dealt with over six major romance scams and most of the time it is individuals looking for a connection. She says that during the pandemic people are seeing less of their family and friends and may just want someone to talk to. “People are isolated and alone, and I get the sense, the scammers are jumping on the opportunity to have a captive audience,” adds Uschi.
“Romance scams cost Canadians more than $19 million last year”
‘You Won a Trip’
Uschi has seen reports of victim conversations that started as simply as a “you won something” and quickly led elsewhere. In most cases, scammers will try to build a friendship with the victim, perhaps even sending flowers or other small gifts. After building a relationship, the scammer will tell the victim about a large amount of money they need to transfer out of their country, or that they want to share with their victim. They will then ask for banking details or money for an administrative fee or tax that they claim needs to be paid to free up the money.
“At the beginning of the scam, it’s such a high for the victim because they believe they’re in a true relationship. And they’re keeping quiet about it. But they’re slowly being destroyed… Quietly. By the time they have to speak up, it’s too late,” says Uschi. “The victim always blames themselves.”
Westoba wants to educate you on how to spot and avoid being romantically duped—leaving the scammers aiming at your heart and your pocketbook—missing their target.
Here are some tips on how Manitobans can protect themselves:
Signs your connection might be more snake than sweetheart
- Wants to leave the dating site immediately upon meeting and quickly asks for an e-mail address, phone number, or instant messaging username.
- Professes true love after only a couple of encounters.
- Has a profile or social channel that seems too good to be true – for inconsistencies between what they post, and what they tell you.
- Won’t answer basic questions about where they live and work. Or, claims that they are a Canadian citizen who is abroad, is wealthy, or is a person of important status.
- Asks for money, multiple times (and, usually through a wire transfer) to pay for:
– A child or other relative’s hospital bills
– Recovery from a temporary financial setback
– Expenses while a big business deal comes through
- If you receive a cheque or another form of payment from someone you’ve met online, and they ask you to cash it and send a portion of the funds back to them – don’t do it. This is known as the overpayment scam.
- Communicates in a more desperate, persistent, or angry way if you don’t send money immediately.
How you can protect yourself:
- Never engage in conversation with a stranger who sends personal texts and emails with no prior communications
- Don’t send money or give your credit card or online account details to anyone you don’t really know
If you have already fallen victim to the scam, request a refund from your credit card provider (more directions below)
- Be careful on what personal info you share online
- Report the fraudster to administrators (dating site’s admin, chat room operator, social channel admin, etc.)
- Only visit secure sites and keep all the settings on your social media pages private
Scott Sanders, Risk Manager at Westoba, states, “The only way to break the cycle is through communication. We want to have those important conversations with members, educate and empower them to make the right decisions. With our expertise and their awareness, we hope to catch fraud before it’s too late.”
Fraudbusting: Who should I call?
Part of preventing fraud is reporting it so others aren’t victimized as well. To learn more or to report fraud:
- Contact your local police, especially if the amount involved is significant
- The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre’s Phonebusters: 1-888-495-8501
- If you have already fallen victim to the scam, please report this to your credit card provider and also report it to the credit bureau of Canada: Equifax at 1-800-465-7166 and TransUnion at 1-800-663-9980.