Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Miss Lonelyhearts wants you to learn from her mistakes

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Imagine my surprise when I looked on Scamdex.com and found my new online sweetheart, the one who had sent me a dozen roses and a big stuffed bear. His name was Bruno -- and he was actually a romance scammer.

This is my embarrassing true story. Get out your tissues, folks.

I was just about to meet the handsome Italian, who had been educated in England, when he told me he had to fly from Winnipeg to Cape Town, South Africa, for a new engineering contract. He said he was picking up his teenage daughter from her grandma in Milan, Italy, where he's based, "because she is my only child, and I want her to live with me in Canada when I come back."

He said she needed to be with him because she didn't have much family. Her mom, who had been a drinker, cheated on him years ago and died in a car accident with her boyfriend a year ago last January.

When Bruno and his daughter got to Cape Town, they discovered the luggage containing all their electronics had been stolen. He hinted in a few letters but didn't ask. Finally, he asked if I could please buy the right brands for them here in Canada, and he would send me the money.

He was staying in a lovely hotel, by the way, overlooking the ocean.

Then the penny finally dropped -- worthless coin that it is.

I emailed back that I would never give an online admirer money or sponsor him into my country. (It helped I didn't have any money to give him.) I also threatened him with the authorities if he ever wrote me another word or harassed me in any way.

And what did my sweetheart end up saying to me as his last three words?

If you guessed "I love you," that loud buzzer sound is for you.

He wrote back: "Go to hell."

Big sigh. How could I have been so stupid? Starved for new romance, perhaps? A little lonely? The insufferably cold winter of 2014?

I made myself sit down at the computer to search for for scam sites and the answers I needed to face. I found many stories -- and my hunk of a sweetheart personally, with his scam name -- detailed by other women on Scamdex.com. And all within 20 minutes -- shame on me for never looking before.

It turns out the African scammer known as Bruno often doesn't even bother to change his fake name because he's so good. His photo was someone else's, of course. I dragged it to Google Image off my desktop and the names associated with the picture popped up.

A woman who reported him on Scamdex gave his modus operandi as a warning.

She writes: "He says he's Italian, from South Africa, and he has his own construction company, will always make arrangements to see you, and then he says he had go to England to get some money from his family in pounds, and then asks you if he can please put it in your account, and then he wants to send you a PIN for the transfer, which never happens. He tells you how much he cares and loves you, asks about your family, sends you fake pictures of himself. Once he has your banking details, it's game over. He will open fake accounts and do money laundering. He also says he stays in hotels."

Sound familiar?

Save yourself a lot of time and possibly your life savings. Be wary of uber-romantic, hot-looking men with their clothes on, ones who look like gentlemen, advertising for real love online. If they can't be checked out as easily as real people who say they live in this city and actually do, search a half-dozen romance scam-check sites to see if they pop up. (Winnipeg has two to three degrees of separation at most, so it isn't difficult to find somebody who knows somebody who knows your eager new love prospect.)

Don't be lazy like I was. Don't stop until you find the pattern of the scam or the actual scammer.

Scamdex.com has the advantage of being free -- and it could save you a bundle and a heartbreak.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 22, 2014 D4

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