Fraud artists find the internet to be a highly useful tool. They use it in many creative ways to bilk people out of money. One approach that is extremely lucrative for them is the romance scam. Those stung suffer not only financial loss but heartbreak as well.
On March 6, Crime Prevention Ottawa held a public session on the topic of romance scams. The principal presenter was Barb Sluppick, who runs the website romancescams.org. She appeared by video from the States. Sluppick has had 60,000 people in on-line discussion groups and currently has 20,000, from all over the world. People have lost jobs and homes to these frauds. Yet, few report to police because they are ashamed. The fraudsters find victims in chat rooms, on dating sites, and on social media such as Facebook.
While people may think that those who fall for these schemes are middle aged and unable to get a date, in fact, aside from young people among whom not many are caught in these schemes, victims come of many ages and with many different backgrounds. There are doctors, lawyers, and CEOâ€™s among them. Both men and women are victims, but it tends to be harder to convince men that they are being taken, Sluppick observed.
One technique they use is love bombing, at all hours of the day and night. Sometimes they work in teams. One of the aims may be to get the victim in a fog through sleep deprivation. Isolating the person is another technique. The victim says that her brother tells her that it is a scam, and the fraudster replies that he is just jealous of your happiness. Stay away from him and donâ€™t talk about us. It is often difficult to convince a victim that she is being scammed. One way is to predict what will happen next. â€œWait and see, he will find some reason that you need to send him some money. And then there will be a further reason to send him more.â€ Or he will need help cashing a check.
If the victim goes to the bank with a check he sends, ordinarily the bank will hold it for a few days to verify certain minimum matters, but it can take months for final clearance, and the check can finally end up bad. The victim is stuck for the amount to pay the bank. She has already sent him the same amount by Western Union. Incidentally, one wonders why, in this age of the internet, verification cannot be made rapidly.
Typically, the victim is out large sums of money before the penny drops. We are talking in the thousands.
According to RCMP Corporal Louis Robertson, a sure sign that a person is dealing with a scam is the demand for money. The fraudster may also be looking for personal information that can give him ways of getting access to your funds, of ways to blackmail you, or of ways to steal your identity.
Fraudsters give you false information as to where they are located. They ask for funds to be sent by Western Union to a particular address, but money sent by Western Union can be picked up any place in the world. According to Sluppick, the exception is in the case of money sent from Minnesota. Because of a state law, if a person attempts to retrieve the cash in a place other than where it is supposed to go, it is sent back.
If you are a victim of this kind of scheme, or if someone is trying to make you one, let the local police know. As well, notify the Consumer Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501. They may be able to take advantage of some clue that you can provide, though the chances are slim.