March is a time for fraud prevention awareness, but it is important to practice safety and vigilance at all times of year. In December 2017, a male from Alberta reported he was the victim of fraud involving a female he had met online. Further investigation revealed the victim had been defrauded more than $130,000.
The Financial Crime section of the Alberta RCMP in Edmonton began an investigation and were able to identify a suspect residing in Eastern Canada. With the assistance of the Miramichi Police Force in New Brunswick, the suspect was located and charged in relation to fraud. The suspect, a 40-year-old woman from Miramichi, was recently convicted of fraud over $5k and received a sentence of 12 months in jail, followed by an 18-month probation, with an order of restitution.
This crime was a classic example of a 'Romance Scam' where the victim is often contacted by the fraudster with claims of family problems causing financial hardship. As is typical in these scenarios, the victim became suspicious of the multiple reasons the fraudster was giving for needing money, and began to doubt the motives of the person they were dealing with. Fortunately, the victim eventually reported the matter to the police and was able to successfully stop the criminal activity. This victim is one of many who have been preyed upon by a scam or fraud circumstance in recent years. In 2020, a total of $18.5 million has been scammed from victims in this type of criminal activity in Canada, although the police believe the unreported losses would make this figure much higher.
It is very important to be aware and cautious when entering into online relationships, as the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre reports there are numerous fake profiles on social media and dating sites. Spend time asking important questions and getting to know the person.
Be aware of key questions the scammer may have:
- Asking for money for travel, a medical emergency or family assistance – making it seem urgent or like an emergency;
- Requesting to receive money on behalf of them – by doing so, you might unknowingly be committing a crime;
- Asking to join a business venture with them;
- Asking to invest in cryptocurrency.
Scammers will try to use any means necessary to convince you their requests are legitimate. The majority of these frauds are not committed by amateurs and they will use technology to their advantage.
Be on the lookout for these red flags, which are suspicious:
- When someone you haven't met in person professes their love to you;
- If the person wants to quickly move the conversation to a private or different mode of communication (email, text, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts etc.);
- If a person always has an excuse not to meet in person;
- If you receive poorly/oddly written messages, sometimes even addressing you by the wrong name;
- If the individual claims to live close to you but there is no evidence they are (they could likely be working overseas);
- Any act of distress or anger to guilt you into sending money;
- If the individual discourages you from discussing them or their situation with your friends and family (attempting to isolate you from those who may be suspicious of the relationship).
Scams can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. If you have been the victim of a fraud, report it to your local law enforcement and to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre online at www.antifraudcenter.ca, or by calling 1-888-495-8501. Please contact your bank and credit card company if you believe your personal or financial information has been compromised.
If you are unsure of whether or not you are being targeted by a scam, check with family or friends, or visit the Government of Canada website to learn about common types of scams and how to protect yourself against them. For more fraud prevention information, follow us on Facebook @RCMPinAlberta and Twitter @RCMPAlberta.