March 9, 2015 7:47 pm
Updated: March 9, 2015 8:58 pm

Online romance scams bilk Canadians out of nearly $14M in 2014


WATCH ABOVE: A woman claims she was defrauded out of thousands of dollars after meeting a man online. Christina Stevens reports.

TORONTO – In 2014 Canadians were bilked out of almost $14 million through online romance scams, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC).

The CAFC said the number is just the tip of the iceberg, as many cases go unreported because victims are too ashamed to come forward.

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One Toronto woman, who spoke to Global News on the condition of anonymity, is telling her story in the hopes of warning other women.

A few years after she was widowed, friends signed her up for a couple of dating websites and she soon found a wonderful man who, she thought, understood her pain.

“He had a son, he was a [widower], his wife died from breast cancer. He kept telling me he loved me,” the woman told Global News.

READ MORE: Digital world opens doors for fraudsters: Better Business Bureau

The man called himself Wynn McGowan, and sent her pictures, claiming he was in the oil business. He said he was working in South Africa and had complications accessing his money, so she gave him her credit card number and started sending money.

In the end, she sent about $10,000 including money she borrowed from relatives.

The con artist said he was coming to visit so she had her hair and nails done and even stocked her fridge with food and drinks he said his son liked.

But the woman’s soul mate never showed. Instead, someone called to say he’d been in a bad accident, and asked for money and that’s when she realized she had been scammed.

The picture of the man claiming to be Wynn McGowan can also be found online under dozens of aliases. Toronto Police said the actual photo is most likely stolen from someone who is unaware.

READ MORE: How to avoid online romance scams this Valentine’s Day

“These suspects don’t have a conscience. There’s a lot of psychology behind it and they definitely target victims who are in a vulnerable point in their life,” said Det. Alan Spratt who specializes in fraud.

He said con artists often run the scams internationally to make it even harder for police to investigate. One of their cases currently involves a woman who lost $600,000 in a scam.

The woman who spoke to Global News warned others to be watchful.

“Once a guy asks a woman for money, run for your life,” she said.

She said the treatment she got from police, made her situation even more painful. Officers at her local division wouldn’t even take her report, telling her there was no crime because she gave the man her money voluntarily.

The detective confirmed that was wrong, and has encouraged the woman to come forward again with her complaint.

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