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Victoria woman warns others about attempted dating-site scam

A Vancouver Island woman is warning others after she joined a dating app and someone promptly tried to scam her.
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Cathy Armstrong says alarm bells started going off when she got a panicked call from a man she'd been speaking to after meeting on a dating site, saying he'd been detained by authorities in Berlin. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

VICTORIA, B.C. — A Victoria woman is warning others after a man spun a web of lies and tried to scam money from her when they connected on a dating site.

Cathy Armstrong has blocked the man’s calls but he continues to try and reach her, leaving his latest pleading message Friday morning.

Armstrong says she didn’t lose any money, but is now taking steps to secure her private information, including changing her phone number and email.

After contacting the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, Armstrong decided to speak out publicly because victims are often reluctant to say anything. “This is why these things perpetuate, because nobody will talk about it.”

It started when Armstrong, an executive director of a charity, posted her profile April 20 on a dating site and mentioned that she was widowed.

Within seconds, a message from “Frank” showed up.

After a brief chat, he asked for her phone number, which she provided.

That was the start of several days of daily phone calls, lasting between 15 minutes and an hour and filled with compliments.

The man said he was a ­hydrologist in Vancouver who had been awarded a $3-million contract in Wisconsin. After he flew there, a problem supposedly arose with a supplier and he said he had to go to Germany to resolve it. The two arranged to meet at Vancouver International Airport when he returned.

The meeting didn’t ­happen. While in Greater ­Vancouver, Armstrong received a 3 a.m. phone call saying he was detained by authorities in Berlin because he was carrying a large amount of cash in a briefcase. At some point, he also said that his mother had died.

Armstrong said alarm bells started going off when she got the panicked call.

The man said he needed her to transfer money from his account to his lawyer. But she refused the man’s request that she use her computer to open his bank account, fearing that might expose it to a virus or provide access to her computer.

When she continued to say no, he asked her to send $6,500 of her own money to cover the legal costs. She did not do that.

A family member of ­Armstrong’s started digging into the man’s information. The rental agency for the house he listed as his address said he did not live there.

Armstrong, who had a copy of the purported Wisconsin contract, spoke with the company owner and discovered there was no such contract.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud ­Centre figured the scam ­originated in West Africa. Armstrong was told that even if the man stopped calling her, attempts to get her money could resume in the future.

She’s bringing in a professional to clean her computer, is advising her bank and plans to watch her credit rating to ensure there are no problems.

Last year, 107,256 instances of fraud were reported in Canada, representing 13,433 victims. A total of $380.8 million was lost to fraud in 2021, the anti-fraud centre said. So far this year, $25 million has been lost to fraud.

To contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, go to: antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com