Community Newspaper Columns

If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is

April 2014

We all have a little voice inside our heads that tries to tell us when a phone or email offer, a poster or a flyer seems too good to be true: You’ve won a free cruise! Claim your inheritance from that relative you’ve never heard of! Take advantage of this deep discount on a roofing job! Earn thousands per week working from home!

Also in this category: Declarations of love from somebody recently met online.

Most of us, most of the time, listen to that voice and simply hang up, delete the email or ignore the offer. But a surprising number of people do get seduced, literally or figuratively, by scams. They bite, get hooked and get reeled in. Some time later, after a great deal of pain and financial loss, they realize or are finally prepared to admit —sometimes forced to do so by people who care about them — that they have been duped.

And do they ever feel dumb. How could anyone fall for that scam? Shouldn’t they have seen it coming? The truth is that the people who orchestrate such frauds are experts at finding and exploiting their victims’ vulnerabilities.

 

As a board member of Crime Prevention Ottawa, I recently chaired a public forum on romance fraud. This is a scam where people are artfully persuaded that the love of their life is at the other end of the email/chat exchange. They just need to send money to pay for airfare, help out with medical bills, or assist with this month’s rent before they can meet that perfect woman/man.

Of all the scams out there, this is perhaps the most painful and personal, with victims not only robbed of money but also emotionally violated. They open themselves up, share intimate details and send money, often repeatedly. The substantial emotional and financial investment makes it more difficult to heed the warning signals, take the advice of well-meaning friends, contact the police and, especially, walk away from the “relationship”.

My involvement with Crime Prevention Ottawa has made me aware of who the victims and perpetrators are, how we can prevent or minimize the cost and pain, and just how widespread this crime might be. Romance fraud is happening all around us. No particular demographic is either immune or particularly vulnerable. Highly educated professionals, members of law enforcement and the military, and low-income single parents — anyone can be duped. It remains an under-reported crime because victims often don’t realize they’re being scammed until it’s too late, and by then they’re too embarrassed to tell anyone about it.

When it comes to romance fraud, it’s very difficult to catch the perpetrators, convict them or seek restitution. Far easier is PREVENTING romance fraud and other scams. The key is awareness: When you know what a scam looks like at the very outset, you will be much less likely to bite.

Thanks to a grassroots group of victims, you can learn everything you could ever want to know about romance scams — how to identify them, how to approach loved ones who are victimized, the most effective ways to intervene, and how to report this crime — at romancescams.org.

I also recommend The Little Black Book of Scams, a comprehensive resource that covers all kinds of cons, published in English and French by the Competition Bureau of Canada. You’ll find an electronic version and information on obtaining print copies in the Publications section of CompetitionBureau.gc.ca.

Remember, when suspicious sounding charities show up at your door, when deep-discount home improvement flyers appear in your mailbox, when you’re offered a CPR course if you pay in advance by credit card, or if you get an email asking for help getting a fortune out of a foreign country — it really is too good to be true.

Parking garage delayed
The City is delaying construction of the parking garage at 170 Second Avenue in the Glebe for close to a year. The decision is in response to a third-party review of the design and input from the construction industry about the overly tight construction schedule. Work is now expected to begin late next winter and be completed in November 2015.

Safer QED crossing advanced
The City of Ottawa is working closely with the National Capital Commission to begin work as soon as possible on a signalized crossing of Queen Elizabeth Drive at Fifth Avenue. The project was originally scheduled to be completed by the fall of 2014, but the City hopes to expedite the work to get the crossing in place for the first football game at Lansdowne Park on July 18.

Michael Jenkin Hall
Last month, I attended a ceremony to honour Michael Jenkin, one of our community’s most dedicated and passionate volunteers. Michael served as president of the Old Ottawa South Community Association for more than a decade, and has also served as vice-president and chair of OS Watch. He has been involved in a number of projects, including efforts to protect the former St. Margaret May school site and save the Sunnyside library, the rezoning and rebuilding of Bank Street, and, most of all, his oversight of and fundraising for the renovation of the Old Firehall.

The community centre’s main hall was renamed Michael Jenkin Hall in his honour. His family, friends and other supporters joined him for the unveiling of the commemorative plaque, along with Mayor Watson, MPP Yasir Naqvi, OSCA representative Brendan McCoy and myself. Congratulations, Michael, and thank you for your community service.

Hospital Link construction
The City of Ottawa is starting work this spring on the Hospital Link to connect Riverside Drive and the Transitway to the Hospital Ring Road. Its goal is to improve transit service to the Ottawa Health Sciences Complex (OHSC) and divert traffic from Smyth Road and Alta Vista Drive.

In addition to the new road, transit lanes and multi-use pathways, the three-year project involves relocating hydro towers, a temporary rail diversion, construction of overpasses at Riverside and the Transitway, realignment of Riverside and new stormwater infrastructure.

For further information, contact Bruce Kenny, Senior Project Manager, Infrastructure Services, at 613-580-2424 ext 20128 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. You can download the City’s detailed plans and schedule at capitalward.ca/hospital-link.

Councillor David Chernushenko