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False Romeos scam residents out of $16M last year in B.C. city

Romance scams preying on the lonely see ‘significant rise’ in Richmond

Mounties in Richmond, B.C., are warning the public after a “significant rise” in romance scams and investment schemes in the city, with a loss of more than $16 million last year.

Police said they received 87 reports of romance crimes in 2023, and the trend continues this year with another 12 cases being reported between January and March with nearly $500,000 lost.

RCMP say these “long-con scams” involve grooming of the victims over weeks or months to nurture the relationship enough to convince them to invest their money in the fraud scheme.

The criminals usually find their victims through dating websites or other social media, and police say they entice them with false promises of profit, and may even show fake returns on initial investments, before their victims are financially ruined.

Richmond RCMP spokesman Dennis Hwang said in an interview Tuesday that fraudsters prey on people’s loneliness to build connections and gain trust.

“Sometimes people are picked randomly, but other times, they will be analyzing certain profiles of people on dating sites to see if they might be susceptible,” said Hwang, adding that these scammers have been “doing their homework” on potential victims.

“Money is never mentioned at the beginning. It’s always about building that trust and building the rapport with the victim if they have a lot of things in common,” he added.

Scammers employ a variety of tactic, he said, such as “I used to go to school in that region” or “I enjoyed that restaurant” to befriend potential victims.

As victims slowly let their guard down and become friendly during conversations, scammers will eventually bring up the idea of investing.

“The criminal might say, ‘Well, look at the money that you allow me to invest. It’s already returned this much profit. Would you like me to give that profit back to you or do you want to reinvest it?”’ Hwang said.

The scams usually involve cryptocurrencies, and police say they believe the actual number of victims may be higher as some might be hesitant to come forward due to embarrassment or fear.

Police say people need to stay cautious and be skeptical of unsolicited contacts, especially from “overly attractive” profiles or strangers who show romantic interests.

“If somebody truly is interested in you, I don’t think that should come up,” said Hwang, referring to the romance scammers asking for money following flattering messages.

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