Con was confined to a hospital bed when he struck up a relationship with a stranger online.
He thought he had found the perfect match in the black-haired woman named Deborah, but it was all a scam.
During more than three years of online correspondence and phone calls, the Edmonton man was defrauded of $143,000.
Con hopes that sharing his ordeal will prevent others from being duped by other online romance scams
He held a news conference Monday in partnership with Edmonton Police Service economic crimes section Det. Linda Herczeg, who investigated his case.
To help protect his privacy, police have not released Con's last name.
"My advice is, if you have any suspicion, start asking questions," he said. "If I can help anybody to not get caught like I did, then it's damn well worth it."
Con said his desire for a family is what kept him on the hook for so long.
"I've been single all my life," he said. "To have someone say that they're going to give you that, that's the really tough part. And then they pretty much stick a knife in you."
Con's story is not unusual, police said. In 2018, Edmonton police investigated 11 romance scams totaling an overall reported loss of more than $1.1 million. In 2017, they investigated 10 cases with an overall reported loss of $397,000.
"It's absolutely heartbreaking that these scammers are taking someone's desire for happiness and using it against them," Herczeg said in a news release.
"They commit all of their time into these scams, because it's their job and it's lucrative."
In Con's case, the woman claimed to be a United States citizen on an overseas contract as a computer civil engineer — and the single mom of a nine-year-old boy.
She asked repeatedly for money, for electronics, medical bills and travel expenses.
The woman claimed her bank accounts were in San Jose, Calif., and she could no longer access them from overseas.
When Con denied her first request for $600 to replace a broken phone, she stopped messaging him.
When they started talking again months later, she again asked for money. He sent $100 for a new phone. It wasn't enough and the messages stopped.
Nearly a year later, Deborah told Con she was laid off and needed help. She needed to get home, but she didn't have enough; she was $1,500 short.
Con paid, but the next day, ticket prices apparently went up and he paid the difference. Then the woman claimed that her son had been diagnosed with malaria. Shortly after, she said they had been involved in a collision and had hospital bills.
She promised to pay Con back once she got home to the U.S. She told him that she loved him and wanted to be with him.
But Con had grown suspicious. He said "things really started to stink" when she sent him personal bank statements that appeared fake. Then she asked him to set up an online bank account and insisted he share his account number and password information.
Then he got a call from the security manager at his bank. Bank staff were concerned about his banking activity and had contacted police.
'The depths of the lies'
Con expects he may have to declare bankruptcy or hand over the keys to house to the bank because of the financial loss. He doesn't expect any of his money will be recovered. The transfers weren't covered by any kind of insurance.
Even so, the loss of the person he thought he loved has been the most difficult to deal with.
"The emotional drain is really, really hard. If any of you people have lost a relative, a mother or father, you will know the feeling," Con said, his voice breaking.
"I equate it to when my brother died in a trucking accident. You know, you live your whole life and then all of a sudden they're gone.
"The money part is tough but the emotional part is really hard."
Throughout their correspondence, Deborah sent photographs, images of her bank statements and passport, even X-rays. All of the documents were fake.
Con has no doubt he was targeted by a co-ordinated group of scammers working together to keep up the charade.
"It still bothers me to that extent, the depths of the lies," he said.
"They don't give a damn who they hurt. They literally do not care. All they care about is how much they can get and how fast they can get it."
Police said there are warning signs that a dating site user is a scammer:
- They ask you for money.
- They profile you and tell you everything you want to hear.
- They will find out what you are looking for in a relationship and create events that will play on your emotions to get you to send money.
- They groom you for as long as it takes (days, months, years) to get your money by being attentive, lavishing you with attention and compliments, and tell you that they love you. Usually they profess their love early in the relationship.
- They are always available, because it is usually a group of individuals that are sending you messages, working off a script.
- The images of your "loved one" will be stolen from the internet.
- Your "loved one" will always have an excuse why they can't meet you.
- They will always find a reason for you to send them more money.