Flirting with fraud: Police take aim at romance scams
Average loss to a victim of romance fraud was $25K in 2016, Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre says
Winnipeg police are hoping to save someone from heartbreak — as well as a broken bank account.
March is Fraud Prevention Month and this year, the Winnipeg Police Service has created a video to raise awareness about a common crime that affects hundreds of Canadians each year — the romance scam.
"Romance scams are one of the most devastating frauds because not only is there a potential for a large loss of money, but an emotional loss as well," the police service said in a news release.
"Generally, romance scams involve the victim and the fraudster meeting through a social networking site and the fraudster will gain the trust of the victim through displays of affection," according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
The fraudster is usually located in a far-away country and eventually claims to want to meet the victim in person. It is at this time the fraudster will say they can't afford to travel, and will seek money from the victim to cover travel costs, the anti-fraud centre states.
Other variations include the fraudster presenting situations of emergency or urgency, such as an illness in the family, and seeking financial assistance from the victim for various costs.
Before they realize it, many victims have been taken for thousands of dollars.
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In 2016, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre found the average loss to a victim of romance fraud was $25,000. In all, there were 831 people across Canada who lost a total of $20,994,468 in romance-based fraud last year alone.
Including all frauds recorded by police across the country, Canadian victims lost more than $99 million, according to the Winnipeg police commercial crime unit's Sgt. Shaun Veldman.
"But the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and experts believe that less than 10 per cent of victims are actually making reports. So it's safe to estimate losses are in the hundreds of millions of dollars [every year]," Veldman said.
The Winnipeg Police Service urges people to consider the following to avoid any fraud:
- Never send money to anyone you only know from an unsolicited phone call or email.
- Avoid providing sensitive personal information online or over the phone in situations you did not initiate.
- Research any request for money before making a commitment.
- Find a "Fraud Buddy" — someone whose advice you respect — and run any request for money by them before you commit to it.
- Never feel pressured to make a quick decision.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.