Fresh romance scams warning after senior conned out of $700,000 life savings

Police and fraud officers have issued a fresh warning about online romance scams after an elderly Ontario man was conned out of more than $700,000.

Recently widowed senior Robert Hogg, now deceased, transferred money 19 times from his local bank in Whitby, Ont., to an account in Malaysia, according to the province’s Serious Fraud Office.

“The victim believed he was sending his money to a woman who he had met online,” Ontario Provincial Police wrote in a press release.

“The suspect claimed she was from the Toronto area, but was in Australia on business. The perpetrator had coached the victim on what to say to the bank and further told the victim not to tell anyone about her, as she wanted to surprise everyone with their relationship after she returned to Canada.”

The victim hid the relationship and the money transfers from his family, resulting in the loss of his life savings and debt totalling more than $700,000.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre received 376 romance scam complaints in 2018, with 275 victims in Ontario losing almost $12 million. This was almost half of the total Canadian loss.

The actual number is likely greater as police estimate 95 per cent of such crimes go unreported.

Police said emotional embarrassment reduces the number of reports and that the scams cause victims severe financial hardship and take an emotional toll.

“Victims are generally single or recently unattached people including seniors,” OPP said in the press release.

“This form of mass marketing fraud usually occurs through singles and dating-related websites, social media platforms or email blasts.

“In some cases, prolonged interaction leads to a feeling of ‘love’ with individuals that has cost some victims hundreds of thousands of dollars before the ‘relationship’ ends, usually without ever meeting in person.”

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre issued a series of tips to help avoid becoming a victim of a romance scam.

It warned against giving out personal information in an email or when chatting online and to check the name, job information and address the person used.

Never send money, give credit card or online account details to anyone you do not know and trust, it said.

Also, do not send intimate photos as they could be used for blackmail.

If you suspect someone is a victim of a romance scam contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre or the police.

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