Miss Lonely-hearts Scams Prey on the Lovelorn

As if it weren’t difficult enough to be single over the age of 40, single ladies and gents of a certain age also must beware romance-themed fraud. It’s a particularly horrible corner of the already cesspool-like Scamland—a place where sociopaths take advantage of people’s emotions and gentle natures, eventually grinding their self-esteem (and in many cases life-savings) into dust.

Last year, jerkfaces trolling online dating sites for marks managed to defraud people out of more than $86 million in the US alone--and another $14 million in Canada. Those totals are probably low however. Victims often feel stupid and ashamed—and never come forward.

The good news is that the authorities are addressing the problem.

To wit: The York Regional Police in Canada have arrested nine men on charges of running a Miss Lonely-hearts scam ring, conning at least seven victims out of $1.5 million. The victim list—and total take—is likely much higher, for the reasons cited above.

The approach is a well-worn: The men set up fake profiles on popular dating sites, initiating long “relationships” that may last months—but which exist almost exclusively in cyberspace, with communications happening via email and text.

For instance, one Toronto woman, Joan, said in a video posted by police that the man she was carrying on with for weeks and weeks never wanted to speak to her by phone, and always managed to cancel any plans to meet in person.

But the red flags never went up for her because, as with most con-artists, these guys made it their business to make their victims feel special. And they were dedicated to their jobs, too: The police said that one victim of the ring was getting more than 20 communiques per day from her apparently besotted amante-- a state of affairs that may help one forgive a few broken dates.

Once the marks were hooked, then the stories started. Stories of investment opportunities, sick relatives, various expensive crises—anything that would sound plausible enough to get their victims to fork over large sums of cash.

“He sort of casually told me about an investment he made and how well it was doing - he told me in a way that made me say, ‘oh, I have a little extra money, maybe I could get in on it as well,’” Joan explained in the video. “So I gave him the money.”

He then disappeared. And then the truth began to become obvious. Hints like broken English and inconsistencies in the stories leapt to the front—clues that she was blind to in the heat and fervor of the messages.

Another victim said that her beau’s story really tugged at the heartstrings: “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. He said he was working in South Africa and was having trouble accessing his funds while abroad—so, she sent about $10,000 including money she borrowed from relatives.

Then, someone called to say he’d been in a bad accident, and asked for more money. That’s when she knew.

What makes this slogger want to throat-punch these guys (metaphorically, of course) is the fact that these events play with peoples’ emotions—and the scam artists know that. In fact, they bank on the embarrassment and pain of being duped, hoping that victims never come forward.

Societal stigmas don’t help: One woman even said that officers at her Canadian division wouldn’t even take her report, telling her there was no crime because she gave the man her money voluntarily.

Joan said that she thought it was important to let victims know that they’re not alone.

"I thought about it and I realized, he's a professional, he's done this to many women," Joan said. "Now I want to warn other people, particularly other women, so that this doesn't happen again."

Here are some tips from the AARP to avoid online dating scams.

Watch out if you "meet" someone who:

  • wants to leave the dating site immediately and use personal email or instant messaging to communicate with you
  • makes several spelling and grammar mistakes when communicating
  • sends a personal photo that looks like something from a glamour magazine
  • professes love too quickly
  • claims to be from the US, but is traveling or working overseas
  • makes excuses about not being able to speak by phone
  • plans to visit, but cancels at the last minute because of a traumatic event or a business deal gone sour
  • asks for money for a variety of reasons (travel, medical emergencies, hotel bills, hospitals bills for child or other relative, visas or other official documents, losses from a financial setback)
  • requests you to wire money or to cash a check or money order and send money back or to a third person; and
  • makes several, ongoing requests for more money.

It’s natural to fall in love, and to be blind doing it. But do take precautions.

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