Romance scams: When love comes at a price

Michelle,* who is recently divorced, meets a “friend” on a popular online dating site. While she lives in Trois-Rivières, Jack is from Ottawa but has moved overseas. As a businessman, he often travels for work. Given the distance, they start a virtual romantic relationship, which goes on for many months.

Here’s Michelle’s story

It all starts when Jack asks Michelle to wire him some money to pay the rent on his overseas apartment because his bank account is frozen. Not long after, he tells her his wallet was stolen and later has some legal problems due to it. After all, he says, fraud is very common in this part of the world.

Over time, he asks for larger and larger amounts of money and makes more and more requests for international fund transfers. Michelle parts with tens of thousands of dollars—and a good part of her self-esteem.

Unfortunately, Michelle’s story is a classic example of a romantic scam. Michelle is crushed when she learns that she’s been an unwitting intermediary in a fraud ring. The thought that Jack wasn’t who he said he was never crossed her mind. She saw herself as an educated, successful woman who could never fall for this type of scam. But her story shows that it can happen to anyone.

Michelle was lucky and had a proactive Desjardins advisor, who helped her take stock of the situation.

From trust to humiliation

Masters of manipulation, scam artists take the time to build trust with their victims. They’re also very skilled in reassuring them if they express doubts. During this time, victims are convinced they’ve found true love.

Even if it takes months, maybe years, for the victim to realize they’ve been taken advantage of, the feeling of being duped and the accompanying shame hurt more than the financial losses.

Double fraud

The chances of getting lost money back are slim. You need to be careful, because fraudsters sometimes impersonate law enforcement officials, such as a police officer, RCMP or Interpol. They promise they’ll get your money back, provided you pay a file-opening fee, legal fees or enquiry costs upfront. This is what’s known as collection fraud.

A real authority figure will never ask for money to take legal steps to recover money.

5 warning signs to watch out for

Although there may be other strategies scammers use, here are some early warning signs of a romance scam:

  1. You meet the person on an online dating or social networking site or app.
  2. For various reasons, they aren’t available for a video chat or an in-person meeting.
  3. The person is, or lives, outside the province or country.
  4. Something unusual happens, like an accident, sick loved one, travel expenses to meet up, legal troubles, upcoming inheritance.
  5. The requests for money are small at first but increase over time.

If several of these signs add up, it’s time to start questioning yourself. Get advice from someone you trust. You can also contact your advisor if you prefer to discuss the situation privately.

Reporting to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre

If this story sounds familiar, you should inform the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre - External link. This link will open in a new window.. You can also report the situation to the Sûreté du Québec. Victims of this kind of fraud and their loved ones can also find support from the Crime Victims Assistance Centre (CAVAC) in their region. The CAVAC’s professional intervention services are confidential and provided free of charge.

Feel free to get help from your caisse if you want more information on the fraud prevention resources Desjardins offers.

* Names have been changed to protect the privacy of our members.

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