Nova Scotia·CBC Investigates

Nova Scotia woman loses thousands in romance scam

A Nova Scotia woman is warning other Canadians about a romance scam that duped her out of more than $3,000.

Lynda McLean Simmons gave up her apartment and sold all of her possessions to meet fake online suitor

Lynda McLean Simmons recently lost $3,000 to an online scam that targets people looking for love on popular dating sites. According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, Canadians lost more than $16 million to the same scam last year. (CBC)

A Nova Scotia woman is one of the latest victims to fall for an elaborate online scam that targets the heartstrings of Canadians looking for love.

It's called the romance scam, and in the case of Lynda McLean Simmons, she was convinced she was going to marry a wealthy businessman named Henry Rosenthal Steinway Junior. 

"I was like the fish caught on the hook and I guess they call it baiting," she said.

She found the profile of her dreams on the popular dating site Plenty of Fish. It described a rich CEO of an oil and gas company based in Manchester, England.

"I sent him a message, told him I liked his profile and I told him I was older than him, so I said 'maybe you don't want to contact me' and he wrote back in a couple of days," said McLean Simmons.

Falling fast

Within three weeks, they were planning a wedding. She even picked out a dress.

"I was in so deep. I loved him so much," McLean Simmons said. "I had a letter almost every morning, and they were so beautiful to read. He wanted me to read them before I would start my day."

The scammer promised to come meet her in Halifax, then take her back to England. The fraudster also supplied a fake copy of his flight itinerary.

Soon after, the requests for money starting rolling in. McLean Simmons said there was a series of elaborate excuses that convinced her to wire a total of $3,000, in three separate payments, to her suitor.

Emptied bank account

"One was the equipment broken in Dubai for the oil rig. The other was to unfreeze his bank account to get money for his ticket back to the U.K.," she said. 

The final payment was for the man to get a lawyer, she said. She was told he needed a lawyer so he could access a fund of $30,000 that would be spent on his trip to Nova Scotia.

I'm still in Nova Scotia without an apartment, without furniture, without anything. I don't know what I'm supposed to do.- Lynda McLean Simmons

Her dream man never did arrive, which finally made McLean Simmons realize it was a scam. By then, she had sold everything she owned and emptied her bank account.

"I'm still in Nova Scotia without an apartment, without furniture, without anything. I don't know what I'm supposed to do," McLean Simmons said.

She's not alone

According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, the Romance Scam nets more money than any other active scam. In 2015 alone, 636 Canadians gave more than $16.3 million to fraudsters.

Daniel Williams, senior fraud specialist for the anti-fraud centre, points out that total only includes people who reported the crime.

"The estimates run between one to five per cent of victims will actually report to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, so we know that 15- to 17-million dollar range is much, much higher," Williams said.

He said in most cases, the scammers are a team of "master manipulators" who work around the clock to convince victims they're real people.

"While criminals worldwide are into romance scams and really and truly always have been, the explosion on the internet of the online romance scams has been a factor of the West African gangs — the Nigerian and Ghanaian gangs — who don't do anything different than any other criminal other than the fact they're doing it on a massive scale," Williams said.

Red flags

The biggest red flag Williams warns people to watch out for is the elusive connection.

"If you're not meeting them face to face in safe surroundings within three days, you're being had," he said. "The scammers always come up with clever excuses and stories why they're not currently available and that is the biggest red flag."

If you're not meeting them face to face in safe surroundings within 3 days, you're being had.- Marie Mullally, CEO of Credit Union Atlantic

Marie Mullally, president and CEO of Credit Union Atlantic, said the other warning sign is when they ask for money.

"First of all, don't share your banking or credit card information with anyone. Second, be aware of any unusual requests such as being asked to cash a cheque through your account or sending funds to a third party," she said. "And thirdly, do not share your personal information. When you provide personal information, you're giving the opportunity for someone to do identity theft."

For McLean Simmons, the warning lights were in her blind spot. She said she would have given the man she thought she loved more money, if she'd had it.

"I blocked him three times and brought him back because I wanted to hear from him and I know I'm only hearing from a picture. I'm not hearing from him, but it's almost like an addiction," she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Angela MacIvor is CBC Nova Scotia's investigative reporter. She has been with CBC since 2006 as a reporter and producer in all three Maritime provinces. All news tips welcome. Send an email to cbcnsinvestigates@cbc.ca

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