RCMP in Saskatchewan are looking for four men who are believed to be part of a long-term romance scam and tied to an international criminal organization with a history of running similar grifts.
Police said a two-year investigation has resulted in the arrest of one person accused of participating in the scam, which allegedly stole more than $360,000 combined from seven different women.
RCMP said the criminal organization operating the scams is believed to be responsible for defrauding people of more than $2,000,000 over the last two years.
In January 2018, RCMP received a complaint from someone who said their name was used without their permission or knowledge in a fraudulent transaction online.
The Saskatchewan RCMP Federal Serious and Online Crime (FSOC) unit investigated and discovered the incident of fraud was linked to several others, with victims across the country.
Five men believed to be living in Regina at the time of the frauds were suspected to be involved. One, 28-year-old Austin Newton, was arrested and charged on Jan. 15, 2020.
He faces numerous fraud-related charges and is set to appear in court on April 21 via video.
A Canada-wide warrant was issued for 24-year-old Kelvin Awani, 22-year-old Jonah Eigbuluese, 25-year-old Joshua Ometie and 27-year-old Clinton Newton.
Anyone with information about these four men have been asked to contact the Saskatchewan RCMP, Crime Stoppers or their local police detachment.
Police 'struck' by authenticity
The FSOC unit created a video outlining "red flags" of fraudulent online romance scams.
"RCMP FSOC was struck by the apparent authenticity of these online romances and by the time devoted by the suspects to the people they victimized," an RCMP news release said.
RCMP Insp. Wayne Nichols said the alleged scammers were patient and waited for the women to believe they were in a true intimate relationship before asking for money from them — sometimes up to eight months.
He said the women met the men through gaming apps and online dating sites.
He said gifts, photos and personal family details were shared between the women and the men involved. In one case, both parties exchanged engagement rings.
"It made sense to believe this was a real relationship," he said.
When the scammers did ask for money, he said they made it sound urgent. For example, he said the women were told the money needed to pay for an accident at work, an operation or the birthday of a child.
Every time, he said the women were told the women were told they'd be repaid.
Because romance scams feature a variety of similar elements, Nichols outlined the following as things to look for to prevent someone from falling victim of a romance scam:
The person claims to have experienced a tragedy or complication in life.
The person claims to be working in a remote location, where they can't access a bank account.
The person claims they need the money urgently for medical expenses or fees to free up money being held by a third party.
The person claims the money has to be sent to a third party or another person who would then send the money to them.
"If the person you are communicating with online or over the phone is telling you he or she is in one of these situations and is asking you for money, do not give them money," he said.