Thursday, July 21, 2011

Halifax man loses $14K in online romance scam

A Halifax man scammed out of $14,000 by a fake online romance is speaking out to help others.

Rob Rogers said his misadventure began with a MySpace message from a flirtatious woman. He wrote back to say she'd made a mistake.

"I wish I'd never even written her back to say anything, but I did," he said Wednesday.

The two began emailing back and forth and then switched to instant messaging. Eventually they started talking on the phone. The woman said her name was Rams Murtala and that she was a lonely widow in Ghana.

She also said her in-laws were mistreating her and she asked Rogers to help.

"It was probably four to six weeks before she asked about getting her power turned back on, which at the time seemed like a simple request," Rogers said.

Rogers began lending her small amounts of money, but it added up to $14,000. Rogers dipped into his pension savings to cover her needs.

One day Murtala agreed to fly to Canada from Africa to meet Rogers in person. He waited for her at the airport, but she never came.

"I don't even know if I could describe the emotions when I was watching other people coming off the planes, and hugging one another, and reunions going on," he said.

"Loved ones finding each other. I don't even know if I could find words to describe what that emotion was like when I realized that I was sitting there for no reason."

Rogers then discovered that Murtala never existed and that the photo she used was in fact of an adult actress called Raven Riley. Riley was not involved in the sting.

Rogers said the emotional damage was terrible, but he turned it into a plan to help others avoid similar scams. He is a peer counsellor on the website Romancescams.org. It offers a check list to see if you may be falling victim to a scam.

Halifax Regional Police do not keep numbers for such scams, but an officer said they have seen crimes like the one Rogers fell for before.

Det. Const. Dana Drover said there are ways to test if your online romance is real.

"A criminal wants to be anonymous, they don't want to be found," he said.

"In many cases they'll never ever engage in a webcam conversation, because that can be recorded. And clearly they don't want their identity being known."

Drover said scammers play off the victim's emotional needs. Rogers agreed.

"They knew that I had no children and I would have wanted children," Rogers said.

"She started playing with the, 'Well, I'd love to have children with you and come over and be with you.'"

Rogers said he is still single and has given up on finding love online — unless they can easily meet in person.

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