During the holiday season, people often open their wallets and hearts to others, but as an ex-romance scammer told CTVNews.ca, fraudsters know this and will take advantage of it.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre reported victims of all scam types gave up $379 million in 2021, $165 million more than was lost the year before.
The total was representative of the entire year, but Christopher Maxwell, an ex-scam artist, told CTVNews.ca in an interview Wednesday the easiest time to take advantage of someone is during the last few weeks of December.
“Everyone wants to be with someone during the holidays,” he said.
Through his lived experiences of being a romance scam artist in Nigeria, preying on single, middle-aged women, he now reveals the tactics he used to embezzle upwards of $20,000, to help would-be victims avoid similar fates.
Now he is a recovered fraudster working with Social Catfish, a company dedicated to preventing online scams through reverse search technology, but Maxwell entered into the fraud world during university, at a time when many of his classmates were scamming people online.
“They have a lot of money in the bank account…they pay off lectures,” he said. “I am broke, I just want footwear.”
After buying an Android phone, Maxwell attempted to scam hundreds of women through a fake profile on Instagram.
“I’m gonna tell her I’m broke, I’m in Iran (or) South Korea deployment,” Maxwell said he would write to women online. “I want to move back from South Korea to the United States and I need money to pay for that.”
During the holiday season, Maxwell says, people should be wary of any online profiles saying they are on deployment in other countries. He said the persona of military personnel who do not have the funds to go home tugs at people’s heartstrings.
“I want to see the kids, I want to give her a big hug, I want to see her beautiful blue eyes,” he said.
Maxwell targeted an older woman named Lisa, who was from the United States. She was in her mid-60s and was lonely. The two conversed through a fake Instagram profile, and Maxwell gained Lisa’s trust to the point where she gave him $20,000.
“She needed someone to love her, ” Maxwell said. “She asked me to give proof that I really loved her, so I sent her pizza and flowers.”
From there, the two started a “relationship,” but after Maxwell scammed Lisa out of $20,000, the woman started getting suspicious. Lisa stopped sending Maxwell money and that’s when he decided to come clean.
“I called her and I told her, ‘My name is Christopher. I’m sorry for what I did to you,’” Maxwell recounted. To his surprise, Lisa was not angry but impressed at how well he had scammed her.
“I’m going to work and I’ll pay you back,” Maxwell told her, but Lisa said she would not accept the money.
“She noticed I was kind of lonely… I live in a very bad world,” Maxwell said.
This interaction was a turning point for Maxwell, who vowed to start helping people avoid scams and protect themselves online.
“I just felt a really guilty conscience,” Maxwell said. “I would not be happy if I let someone do this to my mom…I want people to stop being victims of scams.”
Maxwell says doing a video call is an easy way to figure out if someone is who they say they are. Asking questions to match concrete “evidence,” like a driver’s licence, is also something he advises.
Social Catfish reported 15 different types of scams from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) data, with investment, romance and extortion fraud having the highest amount of money lost.
“The most common type of scam reported in Canada is extortion, accounting for nearly 30 per cent of all incidents over the past five years,” the Social Catfish website explains. “While romance scams account for only about 2 per cent of incidents, they comprise 20 per cent of all dollars lost over the past five years, which is the second-highest rate among all scam types.”
MORE CANADIANS ARE SUBJECTED TO ONLINE SCAMS
According to CAFC, “significant trends” of fraud, identity crimes and associated cybercrime are impacting more Canadians.
“Globally, Canadians rank near the top in terms of length of time spent online and are putting more personal information online than ever before,” the CAFC 2021 report reads.
Social Catfish broke down data from the CAFC to showcase an average financial loss across Canada.
Social Catfish used data from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre annual report to show the most and least scammed places in Canada. (Data from Social Catfish and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre/ Natasha O’Neill) Heightened risks of scams can be attributed, the CAFC report says, to the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to more time spent in the digital environments where Canadians shop, communicate and work.
According to CAFC, young and elderly Canadians are the most vulnerable to online scams and are being targeted by fraudsters.
“While these groups are widely adopting the benefits of the digital world, they may not necessarily have as strong an understanding of the threat environment,” the report reads. “The current trend underscores the need for further education and awareness surrounding cyber literacy and hygiene.”