Dozens of gay men in search of romance were duped out of tens of thousands of dollars in a dating scam that targeted victims throughout western Canada, police say.
Two men from Calgary, aged 36 and 42, preyed on victims they met through online gay dating sites. Police would not name any of the sites, but called them legitimate businesses.
Const. Chris Liew of the Edmonton police cyber-crimes unit said officers began investigating after an Edmonton man came forward to complain in January.
As the investigation progressed, EPS teamed up with police in Vancouver and Calgary.
So far, charges have been laid in eight cases. Four complainants are from Edmonton and four are from Calgary. Those eight men were defrauded out of more than $80,000.
Liew said the scam began in early 2015.
The accused and their victims would connect online and set up a meeting at a public place, such as a movie theatre or coffee shop. The accused would get the target to pay for tickets or a drink. That would be the first chance to see the victim's pin code being used. The alleged fraudster would immediately suggest getting a refund, which offered a chance to confirm the pin code.
Then the pair would go somewhere to have sex.
"Basically, after they have their time with the complainant", Liew said, "they would steal their credit cards and debit cards from their wallets."
The accused then withdrew large amounts of cash — on average about $10,000 — from the victim's bank account. In most cases, the theft happened on the first date.
As soon as the accused stole the card, they moved onto the next target, police said.
One victim from Vancouver was an elderly man who was allegedly drugged with the date rape drug GHB.
All the complainants identified so far were 55 or older. Liew said that demographic was targeted for a reason.
"Because the accused believed that the complainants would be less (rather) than more willing to come forward once they realized they'd been defrauded", she said. "It is a discreet lifestyle that some victims might have."
Liew said she understands it might be difficult for some men to come forward if they've been scammed. She called those who complained "brave" and said, "I think most of them are fairly upset, because it's the trust issue the two accused have violated."
She called it "horrible" that the victims were duped after letting an accused into their homes and their beds.
Liew said charges are pending in another six to eight Vancouver cases.
Police think there could be another 20 victims throughout western Canada, in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. They ask anyone with concerns to contact them.