RCMP warns Central Albertans: Don’t fall for a fake Valentine

Millions of dollars are lost each year to scammers pretending to be in love

One online Romeo bilked a Red Deer-area victim out of $80,000 from a personal bank account.

Another sent fake cheques from a local company to two women from another province he’d been wooing over the Internet. He asked that they cash these cheques for him and send him the money.

Police discovered this scam in October when a local business reported some false cheques were being fraudulently cashed. The two female victims had unknowingly opened themselves up to criminal charges — police could have gone after them for using forged documents, but under the circumstances, did not.

If romance is in the air on Valentine’s Day, then so are romance scams.

Ottawa RCMP reports Canadians lost more than $14.3 million in 2016 to scammers pretending to be in love.

Const. Bill Lewadniuk of the Red Deer financial crimes unit, encourages always using caution when looking for online companionship. Scammers — usually males targeting women, although the roles can be reversed — create fake online profiles with false pictures, then layer on more lies to try to gain their victims’ trust.

Be suspicion when someone you haven’t met professes love, and then asks for money, said Lewadniuk. Quite a few scammers have asked victims to help with the expense of a flight from England or Australia.

Many have claimed to live nearby but work overseas — this is convenient, so they can ask for money or favours, said Lewadniuk. “They might say, ‘I need you to send me money because my mom is sick,’ or “I owe money to people who will hurt me …’ ”

Another common requests is for naked pictures. He added this ploy is used to extort money from victims, after threats are made to post these photos on social media sites.

Most scammers make excuses so they don’t meet their victims — but some do, said Lewadniuk. A few would-be Lotharios have even given flowers or gifts to try to solidify trust.

The reason romantic fraud works so well is because it plays on people’s emotions, he added.

Fraudsters could operate from another province or outside of Canada, so this kind of crime can be difficult to investigate. Lewadniuk said the victim who lost $80,000 a few years ago never got it back.

The best rule is to never send any money or sensitive photos to someone you haven’t personally met and don’t know, added the constable, who handles a couple of “serious” romantic fraud cases each year. Less serious cases are investigated by other officers in the detachment, while Lewadniuk suspects many romantic scams go unreported because the victims are too embarrassed.

He encourages placing a stop-payment on cheques or money transfers, and reporting these case to police and the Canadian anti-Fraud Centre (www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca).

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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