Romance scams a weekly scourge for Waterloo region police

Every week, Det. Const. Dan Cimermancic says he encounters one or two reports of romance scams sent to Waterloo regional police.

'You just feel so good that somebody could love you like that,' says woman from Norfolk County

Online scammers sent Robert Hogg in Whitby a photo of this woman, claiming her name was Sophia Goldstein and that she was a successful businesswoman from Toronto. In the end, he lost almost a million dollars to fraud. (Submitted by the Hogg family)

Every week, Det. Const. Dan Cimermancic says there's one to two reports of romance scams to Waterloo regional police.

But he thinks that's just a fraction of what's actually going on in the region.

"Many people don't report them unfortunately, and I believe that's due to feelings of shame and embarrassment," said Cimermancic, who works in the fraud unit.

Romance scams are one the most lucrative for fraudsters in Canada. More than 800 victims lost nearly $23-million in 2019, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

Last month, Waterloo regional police warned a man had lost more than $500,000 and a woman had lost about $1-million over four years. 

'A wonderful romance'

The formula for romance scams generally stays the same. Scammers connect with people online then establish trust by telling them they love them. They need them. There's nobody like them.

Before long, the scammers concoct a story about needing money for a reason that's paramount to their well being. Maybe it has to do with paying the rent or booking a flight to see the target. Then the scammers go for jugular — they get people to wire money.

That's what happened to Michelle Boyer, an Ottawa woman who was scammed 10 years ago after connecting with a man on a dating site.

"At first, I was loving the attention. He was telling me I was beautiful," said Boyer. "I'm an overweight woman and I was in a relationship for 22 years before him and I didn't have that affection."

Boyer lost about $3000.

A Norfolk County woman lost even more. In 2018 the woman, who police call Judy in a video they released, lost tens of thousands of dollars. 

"It just turned into a wonderful romance. You just feel so good that somebody could love you like that," she told police.

New scam in Ontario

Scammers often target newly single people and seniors, according to police. They don't use their targets' names, and often refer to them as "babe," because they're often scamming multiple people at once. A mix of women and men are victims, but police emphasize anyone can be targeted.

Though technology has evolved, the scams haven't changed much over the years, said Const. Cory Trainor with the West Grey Police Service.

There are more social platforms to scam people on, but it's often a new take of the same old tricks. That includes a new scam in Ontario involving the images of members of the Canadian Forces.

"The most recent one that people have started doing which is absolutely disgusting is that they're using our military personnel," said Const. Cory Trainor with the West Grey Police Service.

"They're taking the photos that the Canadian government has posted from [the] military and they're saying that they're fighting in Afghanistan or the war and they'll be home soon and need money," said Trainor.

'I said no'

It was when the scammer asked Boyer to sell her deceased father's wedding ring for cash that she finally backed away.

"That was the straw, I said no."

Boyer says even though being scammed was embarrassing and infuriating, there's a silver lining; she learned the value of confidence she hadn't had throughout her previous marriage.

After saying no to the scammer, she went on to a different dating site and started chatting with somebody.

"We met the next day and we've been together ever since."