TORONTO – The plight of a Toronto widow who lost hundreds of thousands of dollars and her home in a dating scam has prompted police to urge vigilance online.
Police say the woman, whose name has not been released, is a former municipal employee who first made contact with the suspect or suspects in the case on social media.
Investigators say the woman believed she had developed a long-term relationship, so when the scammers claimed to be in a crisis, she sent roughly $40,000 to help.
Det. Sgt. Ian Nichol of the Toronto police financial crimes unit says the woman eventually realized she’d been had.
He says she was then was contacted by the same suspects posing as agents with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations and the United Nations, who told her she had been awarded $22 million by Nigerian courts in restitution as a victim of fraud.
Nichol says the suspects convinced the woman to send more money to cover fees, taxes and other expenses, prompting her to sell her condo and turn over about $410,000 more over about seven years.
He says they used the names of real FBI and UN employees and provided fake news releases and court documents to bolster their lies.
Police aren’t likely to track down the person or people responsible in this case, but hope the woman’s experience serves as a warning to be cautious online, Nichol said, noting that people may be more susceptible than they think.
“This is a person who held a responsible administrative job — she’s no dummy,” Nichol said.
“Typically, many of our victims in these cases have some form of vulnerability. They tend to be more senior but it’s not that they don’t have their wits about them — they usually do — but they have a vulnerability.”
Some 748 Canadians — most of them in their mid-40s to late 50s — lost more than $17 million to online dating scams last year, according to the RCMP. Some have been cheated out of more than $100,000, the force has said.
Scammers create fake online profiles in order to gain someone’s trust then ask for money, often claiming to be faced with an emergency, RCMP said. That can involve fake social media profiles as well as those on dating sites or apps.
Some red flags to watch for include someone professing their love before meeting in person, or claiming to be from the same town but working overseas, which may be a setup to ask for money later, the force said.
To avoid getting ripped off, it’s best not to send anyone money, the RCMP has said.