New Brunswick

'Romance fraud' takes New Brunswickers for $350K

Last year was a bad one for fraud, especially for people scammed for love.

Many more victims are too embarrassed to report fraud, commission says

Rick Hancox is the CEO of the Financial and Consumer Services Commission, says romantic fraud preys on people's emotions. (CBC )

Last year was a bad one for fraud, especially for people scammed for love.

In 2018, people in New Brunswick lost $1.1 million to frauds and scams, according to the Financial and Consumer Services Commission.

"Romance fraud" squeezed the most money out of victims — more than $350,000 from 18 people.

Romance fraud is the term for when someone strikes up a relationship with somebody online, builds up that relationship over time, "and then they start hitting you up for money," said Rick Hancox, the CEO of New Brunswick's Financial Consumer Services Commission.

He cited the case of an elderly man who met someone online who lived overseas and planned to visit.

"And then something happened," Hancox told Information Morning Fredericton.

"Her mother had to go into the hospital. But boy, you know, because of the country that she was in they had to pay for your health care … so unfortunately she had cashed in her ticket and paid for her mother's treatment. And boy, you know if she'd had some money she'd come visit. ... And you know it goes from there."

When you're victimized, you sit back and you know the bright light of day, you say 'Gee, how on Earth did I ever fall for that?' And that's why people don't report.- Rick Hancox , CEO of New Brunswick's Financial Consumer Services Commission.

Hancox said frauds prey on emotion, urgency or fears. Romance fraud preys on emotion.

"You build up this relationship, and you get taken in," he said.

It's easy when you're on the outside looking in to say, "This would never happen to me," he said.

"But the fact of the matter is that the sophistication of these frauds are such that, gee, they work."

'How did I fall for that'

Hancox said some victims won't report fraud because of the embarrassment factor.

"When you're victimized, you sit back and, you know, the bright light of day you say, 'Gee, how on Earth did I ever fall for that?' And that's why people don't report. So, yes, we have some numbers of people who have reported, but those numbers we think are way understated."

He estimated that seven out of 10 people don't report fraud but said people should swallow their embarrassment and report it, because this may prevent someone else from becoming a victim. 

"To me that's a real big key, because if we can stop people from becoming a victim because they're aware that these things are happening and how to recognize them, that's the best answer because there's no way to get money back on these [scams]"

Seniors and millennials

Hancox said the commission doesn't have statistics on the gender split of people falling for romance scams, but seniors and millennials are the most vulnerable.

Romance fraud usually starts with an online relationship. (CBC)

"I think in the millennial it's probably because the familiarity and the trusting of the, you know, the online and the electronic environment," he said.

Other types of fraud

The two other common types of fraud are identity fraud and job scams.

New Brunswickers lost $203,946 from 100 victims in identity fraud, and $353,361 from 18 victims in job scams.

Most of the time, job scams start with an advertised job: work from home, $5,000 a month, won't interfere with your current job.

People sign up, and they get invoices to process. When it's time for payment, the fake boss sends a cheque for $5,000, and asks you to cash it and wire $4,000 back.

Once the cheque is cashed and the money is wired, the original cheque turns out to be bogus.

"They've got your $4,000 and you're on the hook for the other $1,000 because the $5,000 cheque bounced," Hancox said.

Warning people

The commission keeps an index of different types of fraud that people can check to ease or prove their suspicions.

"A listing of all of the frauds we've ever heard of and how they work and what to watch out for," he said.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton


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