Edmonton police investigate romance scam

Nanook

Administrator
Staff member
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/edmonton-romance-scam-dating-fraud-1.5228595

Wallis Snowdon · CBC News · Posted: Jul 31, 2019 6:00 AM MT | Last Updated: July 31

'He took everything': Edmonton police investigate $250,000 romance scam

Evelyn Wichmann says a stranger she met on an internet dating site seduced her into financial ruin.

Wichmann said she was scammed out of more than $250,000 by a man who — after months of loving messages and phone calls — disappeared.

"He conned me," Wichmann said. "In six months, he took everything."

Wichmann said her bank account is in overdraft. Two credits cards and three lines of credit have been maxed out. She's racked up so many insufficient fund charges with her bank that her accounts have been suspended.

She's planning to sell the bungalow where she has lived in Edmonton's Highlands neighbourhood for the past 30 years in order to pay the bills.

"He played on my heart," she said. "I can't sleep. It's just terrible."

'He sucked me right in'
Police say Wichmann, 62, was the victim of romance fraud, where con artists use internet dating sites to troll for victims, profess love, then use the relationship to dupe their mark out of money.

Wichmann, a receptionist, said she was lonely when she first messaged the man in January.

Her husband had died of cancer three years earlier. Since then, she has survived a heart attack and a stroke.

When she came across an account for a 56-year-old man living in Alberta, she thought he had a kind, handsome face.

The man's dating profile suggested that he lived in Calgary. But he told Wichmann he had moved to the United States. He claimed to be a civil engineer and said he was preparing for an extended trip.

He told Wichmann he was travelling to Turkey to oversee the construction of a charity hospital.

He began asking for money to help cover his travel bills, shipping fees for his business and a translator.

A few weeks later, he claimed to have been wrongfully imprisoned in a Turkish prison.

He said had a $300,000 tax bill for the hospital. It needed to be paid or he would not be allowed to leave prison or the country.

He also pleaded that she send money for his bail, for a lawyer and finally for a flight to Edmonton to meet Wichmann for the first time.

When it was all over, he promised to repay her double what was owed and start a new life with her in a new house in California.

Wichmann pawned her vehicle to pay for the man's flight back to Edmonton on July 16. But he never showed.

Friends and family had grown suspicious, but Wichmann ignored their warnings.

She had photographs of the man. She'd spoken with him on Skype. She even had a picture of his Swedish passport. Until that moment, she refused to doubt his story.

"I usually have a gut feeling," Wichmann said. "He sucked me right in."

Romance fraudsters go to extreme lengths to dupe their victims, said Linda Herczeg, an Edmonton police detective in the economic crimes section.

The sophisticated criminal networks behind the scams create fake social media profiles, bank statements and other documentation to trick their victims, Herczeg said.

They spend months building trust through daily messages and phone calls, preying on the vulnerabilities of their victims.

"They go out of their way to make you feel important and special," Herczeg said. "They profile you from the very beginning.

"It's all about the money. There is no emotional connection. It's strictly scripts and it's around the clock."

Herczeg has seen victims lose anywhere from $10,000 to $300,000. The international nature of the cases makes them difficult to investigate and defrauded funds are rarely retrieved.

"Whatever you've got, they'll take."

The scams have been around for years but the tactics have evolved, Herczeg said.

As the public become more educated about such scams, fraudsters search for better ways to con people — taking their charade out of the virtual realm into the real world.

The criminal networks behind the scams will fly in "actors" from other countries to meet their victims, Herczeg said.

"They'll have some guy fly into Edmonton for the day and meet someone for coffee, lunch or dinner. So then that person is real."

And the tactics appear to be working. An increasing number of people are falling prey.

In the first three months of 2019 in Edmonton, more than $800,000 in losses were reported to Edmonton police. In 2018, $1.5 million in losses were reported.

According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, romance scams are the costliest kind of fraud in Canada, with more than $22 million in reported losses in 2018.

Herczeg suspects the numbers are grossly underreported. Victims are often ashamed.

"I usually have a gut feeling," Wichmann said. "He sucked me right in."

Before CBC News began working on the story, Wichmann was turned away by Edmonton police and told by an officer that her case could only be resolved in civil court.

Herczeg said EPS is working to better train their frontline staff about romance fraud. It should be reported to local police as quickly as possible.

Wichmann's case will be investigated, she said.

Wichmann remains hopeful that she will get some retribution.

"He's going to get what he deserves. I believe in that. God will get him, or karma.

"I want to catch this guy. He took my life."
 
Top