Online dating scam costs lovelorn Canadian $500k

Filed Under: Featured

Online dating warning sign. Courtesy of ShutterstockA Vancouver man has lost $500,000 (CAD) to online scammers after being pulled into a complex, long-term fake romance con by a man he met on a dating site.

The crooks behind the scam are thought to have been operating out of London, with one suspect believed to have been arrested by UK police. The money, which includes a chunk of retirement savings cashed in by the victim, is unlikely to be recovered though.

The man, referred to only by the pseudonym "Tony" in the report from Canada's CBC News which investigated the story, met a man on a dating site and then moved their discussions over to Yahoo! Messenger, where "romance blossomed" over the next six weeks.

Having laid the groundwork, the scam then got into gear when Tony's new love claimed he had been stranded in Malaysia with no access to cash to pay the necessary bribes. Tony was then persuaded to pony up multiple "loans" to help out, the total eventually mounting up to an epic half a million dollars.

Somewhat unusually, Tony finally cottoned on to the scam and decided to fight back, hiring investigators to look into his tormentors, who were tracked down to a company operating on the edge of London. Police in both Vancouver and London were brought in, and charges are thought to be imminent.

Tony apparently resorted to online dating as he found meeting potential partners in the real world difficult - a situation which seems to be ever more common, given the explosive rise in popularity of online romance sites, which have gone from social stigma to accepted norm over the last few years.

The human need for companionship has always been a standard weapon in the cybercrook's arsenal, with emails offering the chance of companionship (or at least sex) a common sight for many years.

The rise of online dating has of course been spotted by the same cybercrooks, looking to exploit every weakness of the web-using world.

The detailed personal information people post to dating sites makes ideal fodder for identity theft and spear-phishing, while scamming contacts met on dating sites has become big business, with one rather unprepossessing gang recently jailed after netting over $1 million posing as military staff overseas.

Man and woman online. Image courtesy of ShutterstockThe trick of being stuck in dubious foreign lands with difficult local authorities is also a standard tool, commonly used in the venerable 419 scam and in more personal cons, like the one where a contact tries to persuade you they've been robbed on holiday and need funds to get home - even big-name politicians have been targeted in this way.

Romance scams have become an industry of their own, netting huge amounts annually from unwary victims, although few are taken for quite as much as poor "Tony".

So, to avoid being the next in a long line of dupes, keep on your toes.

Don't go giving money to online contacts you don't really know, even if they sound like Mr or Ms Perfect.

Don't fall for the old "if you can stump up a few grand for plane tickets and a new wardrobe, I'll be right over there to love you forever" line, any more than you would be taken in by the one that goes "we just need a few hundred to free up the few million we can get for you".

Even if people you do know ask for money in odd circumstances, be wary and make sure you check it's really your buddy who's asking for cash to bribe those dodgy foreign officials.

Above all, try to keep your online activities controlled by your logical brain, rather than those baser urges. A sceptical mind is often the best defence.


Image of online dating warning sign and man and woman online courtesy of Shutterstock.

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10 Responses to Online dating scam costs lovelorn Canadian $500k

  1. Nik Norfolk · 327 days ago

    And stories like this one are why people should need a Certificate of Competence before being allowed on the Internet! It's too dangerous for stupid people!

    • Nigel · 327 days ago

      ...er, you could say the same thing about life in general. But who certifies the certifiers?

      "There oughta be a law" always translates to more interference by politicians & bureaucrats, who haven't exactly proven themselves to be the pinnacle of common sense and responsibility. Quite the opposite, I'd say.

      If you could legislate people into using common sense, acting responsibly, and not being stupid, it already would have worked by now. Creating another bureaucracy will create more fraud, more corruption, limit more freedom of choice, and end up punishing the people who already use good judgment.

      And there will still be stupid people on the Internet.

      • Rick · 326 days ago

        Reminds me of a Mark Twain truism ... "If common sense were all that common, wouldn't there be more of it around ?"

    • ktownproperties · 326 days ago

      Yeah this guy is an f-ing boob for giving a half a mill to someone he has never met...

  2. fidelitycheckonline · 326 days ago

    Never give money to a stranger online!

    You can read about thousands who get scammed so why be one of them!??

  3. Beth · 325 days ago

    All good tips -- but the post really could have lost the judgemental tone. "Last resort" and "can't meet people in the real world" indeed! As the writer noted, the stigma is not gone, so why does he feel the need to perpetuate it?

    • John Hawes · 325 days ago

      Didn't mean to imply any criticism, was merely quoting the original investigators who spoke to "Tony" himself.

      Quite agree that neither way can be considered superior, indeed I've actually heard people suggest the "real life" method is worse - the argument being, why would you trust someone whose character you haven't read a detailed report on, complete with reviews and references...

      • beth · 325 days ago

        Ah -- my apologies! I misunderstood.

        I don't know that there's a right or wrong way to date -- it really depends on the person. Either way, I think we have to be careful.

  4. Beth · 325 days ago

    Argh. Typo. I meant the stigma is NOW gone.

    I know people who met their spouses "in real life" and people who met their spouses online. I don't think one is superior to the other.

  5. Great post. I really like it

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About the author

John Hawes is Chief of Operations at Virus Bulletin, running independent anti-malware testing there since 2006. With over a decade of experience testing security products, John was elected to the board of directors of the Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organisation (AMTSO) in 2011.