Toronto woman loses $450K in online romance scam

Toronto police are warning the public about dating scams after a fraud scheme that spanned seven years.

Police warn public after woman sells condo in fraud scheme that spanned 7 years

Toronto police are warning the public about costly online dating scams after a former city employee was defrauded out of more than $450,000.

The seven-year romance started in 2010 with an online profession of love from a man stationed overseas.

He was having financial issues, the man told his long-distance flame — a widow and former City of Toronto employee — and she sent him $40,000 to help. Over the years, she sent more money in hopes of pursuing $22 million in compensation promised by the Nigerian court system.

This month, the whole thing came crashing down — after the former city staffer had sold her condo and sent more than $450,000 overseas.

But there was no man and no compensation. Toronto police say it was just another online romance scam.

Det. Sgt. Ian Nichol, with the Financial Crimes Unit, said he became aware of the scam this month. The woman "had been through some trauma in her life," he said, making her vulnerable to the social media requests of an online scammer.

According to police, the suspect — or suspects — developed a long-term "relationship" with the woman, and convinced her to help with a series of fake financial issues.

They also used the assumed identities of real people employed in the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United Nations and convinced that woman she could claim a court award if she sent money to them "to cover various fees, taxes and bribes of local officials in Nigeria."

"She was led to believe she was going to be compensated for her losses," Nichol said.

More than $450,000, he said, is now believed to be offshore, and police said the woman was "defrauded of her life savings and possessions."

$17 million lost to romance scammers in 2016

In 2016, roughly 750 people across Canada lost more than $17 million to scammers pretending to be in love, RCMP data shows.

That works out to around $23,000 a person.

"Typically, the higher the trust level, the more money lost," the police force notes.

Some scammers pretend to be business people, while others impersonate soldiers stationed overseas. They could be from any country, and might claim to have a legal or financial issue, or an immigration problem. 

A common thread? They typically prey on people who are older and single. 

"There's always something that's caused them to have a vulnerability, whether it's loneliness, whether it's trauma in their life — who knows," Nichols said. "Once they've bought into it, it can be very difficult to persuade them otherwise."

He said loved ones should watch for warning signs, like secretive behaviour, stories of an overseas romance, or whisperings of needing to help a "friend" financially.