A Chinese woman is in the Toronto area looking for a man who she thought she would spend the rest of her life with, only to go through heartbreak and financial betrayal.
Suzie, whose full identity CBC News agreed not to reveal, met a man three years ago on a Chinese dating website. He claimed to be a wealthy Canadian widower and neurosurgeon who owned property in Canada and the United States.
Months after their online romance blossomed, he showed up in China.
"We had dinners, a lot of dinners. He paid the bills," Suzie said through a translator.
After a few days the conversation shifted, she said.
"He asked me about my financial situation, including my job, including my income, how I spent my income, how much assets do I own, how much property do I own."
Gave him $300,000
Then weeks after the man left, Suzie said, she got a frantic call. He told her that he was in a car accident and had killed someone and that he needed money fast.
She said she gave him $300,000, much of it borrowed from loan sharks.
Now she's trying to find him.
"Not only is her heart broken, her trust in anybody is now really shaken," said Janet Sherbanowski, executive director of the Crime Prevention Association of Toronto, who said Suzie's story is not an isolated case.
Toronto police are investigating but admit in cases like Suzie's there isn't much they can do. Det.-Sgt. Cameron Field of the force's financial crimes unit said that this kind of investigation is typically the responsibility of Chinese authorities.
$16.6M lost to 'romance scams'
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says there were $16.6 million in reported losses to so-called romance scams in 2012, up from $11.8 million in 2011 and way up from $633,000 in 2008. The number of complaints and victims shot up thirtyfold over the same five-year span.
The majority of cases go unreported, the centre says.
Authorities have warned about these situations before. Ontario's Ministry of Consumer Services says that in a typical romance scam, "scammers trick victims into believing they have romantic intentions. They gain a victim’s trust, and use that trust to commit fraud or cheat victims out of money."
The ministry says warning signs include:
- Meeting someone on a dating website who quickly asks to move communications to another forum like instant messaging, email or phone
- Declarations of love after short period, sometimes just a few weeks
- Attempts to isolate a victim from their family or friends
- Requests for provocative photos, which might be used later on to extort a victim
- Requests for help cashing cheques or wiring money abroad
- A request for a small gift, which is often a test of a potential victim's gullibility