February 19, 2016 3:13 pm
Updated: February 19, 2016 4:12 pm

Canadians lost $16.9M to romance scams in 2015, fraud specialist says

In this July 5, 2015, file photo, a man uses the dating app Tinder.

(AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal, File)
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Online romance scams are big business in Canada, bilking those looking for love out of almost $17 million according to new numbers from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

Daniel Williams, senior fraud specialist at the CAFC, said in 2015 there were 990 reported romance scam cases involving 672 victims who lost a total of $16.9 million. That is up from almost $14 million in 2014.

Williams said the financial cost is much higher than other mass-marketing scams.

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“It’s being done on an industrial scale by people who know what they are doing and are doing it very well,” he said. “They are learning from their mistakes. They are repeating what works and checking out what doesn’t work.”

READ MORE: Calgary woman says she was scammed out of nearly $6K

Williams said the “vast majority” of scams involve dating websites like Match.com, Christian Mingle, and eHarmony.com. He noted that online dating apps like Tinder haven’t seen as many cases.

For their part websites like Match.com, Christian Mingle, and eHarmony.com all include safety tips that caution users about sharing financial information and to avoid anyone who asks for money.

Scam artists are able to profile people to a “phenomenal degree” based on information available from dating websites, according to Williams.

“It’s amazing the amount of victims that we speak to who tell us… ‘Once I started corresponding it was as if I could read my mind,’” he said.

Ontario police charged nine people in June 2015 in connection with romance scams where seven victims allegedly lost $1.5 million. Police said the investigation began a year early in July 2014 when investigators determined that a group of people from the Toronto area had been targeting women on dating websites.

In a separate instance in August, Global News reported on a Calgary woman who said she was conned out of nearly $6,000 from a man she met on Tinder. In that case the woman said the man she had been dating convinced her he was needed the money to pay vet bills for his beloved dog.

READ MORE: BC senior swindled out of $300000 in online romance scam

Tinder advises users to never give out financials information.

“Ignore any request to send money – even if the person claims to be in an emergency – and report it to us immediately,” Tinder says on its website. “Never give out financial information such as you social security number, credit card number or bank information.”

Williams says the number scam of artists using dating websites has grown from the “hundreds” to the “tens of thousands.”

“They have done it so many times it’s like a formula to them,” he said. “They can suss people really quick, whether to push the shared loss, whether to push the hope for the future or whether to push the love of family.”

South of the border, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R Vance Jr. announced earlier this week a 35-year-old was charged with swindling two women he met on the popular dating out of $26,000 under the guise of needing to pay for relatives’ cancer treatments. According to the criminal complaint, Brandon Kiehm, a dog walker, went by the name Tristan Acocella on Tinder and claimed to be a banker with Goldman Sachs.

“The classic dating scams of yesteryear appear to be thriving online,” Vance said in a statement. “My office is seeing an increase in the number of scammers targeting singles online.”

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre recommends these tips to avoid becoming a victim:

  • Be wary of anyone who rushes to profess their love too quickly
  • A distressed person worried about a loved one who needs money
  • Talking about good friend or loved one in another country that is coming to visit or needs help.
  • Mentions Western Union or MoneyGram.

© 2016 Shaw Media

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