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Romance scams: When love comes at a price

December 12, 2022

Michelle1, 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 started when Jack asked Michelle to help him pay for his overseas internet service because his bank account was frozen and he could no longer communicate with Michelle. 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, it’s the feeling of being duped and the accompanying shame that hurts victims of romance scams, not to mention the financial losses that can amount to their life savings.

Double fraud

The chances of getting lost money back are slim. Victims of romance scams are likely to be scammed again. That’s why you need to be vigilant, because the same fraudsters could be posing as police, the RCMP, Interpol, etc. They’ll contact you with the promise of recovering your lost money, provided you first pay a fee for opening the file, for the investigation, for a lawyer, and so on.

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 lover is, or lives, outside the province or country.
  4. Something unusual happens to the lover, like an accident, sick loved one, legal troubles, upcoming inheritance.
  5. The requests for money are small at first but increase over time. For example, phone or internet bills, travel expenses, legal fees, etc.

If several of these signs add up, it’s time to start questioning yourself. You can also contact us at 1-800-CAISSES (1-800-224-7737) to get support or 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. You can also report it to your police department. Victims of this type of fraud and their loved ones can also find support in their area by consulting the Victim Services Directory, which lists the various victim service organizations and providers across Canada.

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

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