Internet romance scams are taking in millions of dollars a month in Canada alone, said Dan Williams, senior call taker at the Canadian Fraud Centre.
“It’s big business by people who know what they are doing and have the resources and experience to defraud people. Each one of the gangs is defrauding hundreds of people at the same time,” Williams said.
In some cases, fraudsters can afford to string people along for nine months before getting $2,000 or $3,000 out of them, he warned.
“To a victim that would seem there’s no way this could be phoney. This guy was at my beck and call for nine months, how could he be a scammer if he was going to be living off that money?”
Since 2009 the Canadian Fraud Centre has received 791 romance scam complaints where there is mention of Facebook.
Williams said there are two main types of mass marketing frauds using organized crime to rip off people with the same mode of operation by the thousands.
“Those two types are lines of communication and how they get the money from you.”
Scammers will make it as convenient as possible for the victim by using whatever modes of communication they use. Scammers are very experienced in whatever methods they are using to contact people and get their money.
“There is no part of what they are doing they haven’t done a thousand times,” Williams said. “They can locate a Western Union outfit near you with the click of mouse. And they might make it sound like they know this because they’ve been in your area, but the information is freely available on the internet.”
In most cases, if victims wire money to a location, it is actually going to that location, Williams said.
“Western Union and MoneyGram are the two common ways of sending money. They will either pin it down to a country or to surrounding countries.”
Williams said scammers can use cell phones from anywhere in the world in other parts of the world and on top of that, most of these types of gangs are multi-national.
Fraud criminals are extremely comfortable using fake passports, phoney credit cards, and will have runners who can pick up wired money.
“They have quite the network,” Wiliams said.
And it works to their advantage because should the Spanish police, for example, start clamping down on scammers picking up money at Western Union outlets, the scammers will quickly move to operating out of the Netherlands or the United Kingdom.
Whenever the pressure is applied, they will pop up elsewhere, Williams said.
Williams has been on the job since 1999 and said romance scams have increased immensely with the Internet.
“It has made their method of contacting people virtually free,” he said. “Not that in the old days they really spent that much, because even if they were sending out mail it was usually either stolen stamps or hijacked courier accounts.”
Part of the scammer’s credo is spend as little of their money as possible, always have someone else foot the bill, whether it’s through theft or compromised credit card numbers, he said.
“They will make use of all the updated technology. Whatever people are using, scammers will be very quick to pick up the cutting edge.”