Dating in Vancouver: How to spot a scammer

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      I was having drinks with my girlfriends at a bar in Gastown. None of them knew that I was only pretending to have a good time. A guy I was excited about told me he didn’t want to continue seeing me, so there I was, decked out in a white dress, drinking shots in an attempt to drown my feelings of rejection and loneliness. 

      I went to the bar to get the next round of drinks. As I was waiting to get the bartender’s attention, a handsome guy with dirty blond hair stepped up right beside me.

      “Hey,” he smiled.

      “Hi,” I smiled back.

      “I’m Seth.” (Note: I’ve changed his name.) He raised his hand to shake mine.

      Little did I know, this innocent exchange would lead me into a whirlwind of deception—and teach me a crucial lesson about dangerous men.

      Our first date was dinner at a fancy restaurant in Kitsilano. He was wearing a sports jacket; a crisp, white, collared shirt; and leather shoes. Since most of the guys I’d dated in Vancouver showed up in flip-flops and athleisure, I was already impressed.

      He told me how he lived between Vancouver and Los Angeles and ran a film production company. In fact, he was currently in the process of making a movie starring Ryan Gosling. As he told me about himself, it became clear that he was very cultured and had a fast-paced, luxurious life of jetting around the world. But something in his eyes felt a little…off. 

      I jokingly blurted out, “There’s something about you I can’t read. Are you like a sociopath or something?” We laughed. The waitress then interrupted us as she placed the dessert on the table. 

      From that point on, Seth and I saw each other a few times a week. He was the consummate gentleman. He’d pick me up in his Mercedes, open the doors for me, and bring me flowers. Seth checked all the boxes: handsome, successful, made a ton of effort to see me, and did all the romantic gestures I thought were only possible in rom coms and Instagram highlight posts.

      He’d talk about our future, the trips we would go on, and even the type of oceanfront apartment we could get one day together. Even though he said all the right things, I couldn’t help but feel something was off. I figured it was just my old trauma cockblocking me, so I dismissed my doubt. Afterall, on paper, he was everything I said I wanted in a guy.

      But then things started to get weird. There were fancy dinners when his wallet was conveniently forgotten. Or the time he pitched the idea of a romantic getaway to New York—he just needed to use my credit card to book it. And then came the big ask: a loan of $10,000. When I dared to question the details, he flipped it on me, painting me as unsupportive and selfish. After a tense hour of arguing, I caved and wrote the cheque. He took it and left in a huff. I had clearly disappointed him.

      My gut was in knots. I was confused and unsure of what had just happened. That’s when I felt the urge to Google him once more, this time pairing his name with “fraud.” And there it was, at the top of the search results: sethjohnsonfraud.com. His picture stared back at me under the headline: “Seth Johnson is a con artist.” The website detailed someone else’s story of being duped by him, along with his various methods for scamming people out of tens of thousands of dollars.

      I called my bank in a panic to stop the cheque.

      Since he still had some of my things at his house, I didn’t want to cause any trouble. So I just sent him a text: “Hey, I’m sorry we ended off that way. I don’t want our relationship to sour over money issues. I’m actually not comfortable with lending you money. Please don’t cash the cheque.”

      He replied immediately: “No prob.”

      The next time I saw him was on his Instagram Stories. He was in New York—with someone else. After doing more digging, I discovered that Seth had three lawsuits against him. I ended up talking to two people who also got scammed by him. A few weeks passed, and I got a text from him: “I just got off the phone with the bank. Your cheque bounced. This has caused me so much trouble. I don’t believe you, Amy.”

      The audacity of this guy. No remorse for cashing in a cheque I told him not to. I don’t know if he was a sociopath, a narcissist, or just an entitled, dubious jerk. All I know for sure is that I learned the hard way what happens when you ignore your gut.

      Looking back, I realize I was the perfect target for someone like Seth. Lonely, lost, recently rejected, and eager for attention—I might as well have had a target on my back that said: “Narcissists, pick me!” 

      While I came out of the experience relatively unscathed, it taught me valuable lessons on how to protect myself from this happening again. If you’re wondering how to spot a metaphorical wolf in sheep’s clothing, here are some telltale signs.

      Moving fast and furious: They accelerate the relationship from zero to a hundred in no time, regardless of how comfortable you are with the pace and intensity. They act as if they’re convinced you’re “the one” before they’ve even had the chance to get to know you. This might feel flattering, especially if you’re wrestling with feelings of rejection or low self-esteem. Remember, real connections need time to develop. Their behavior isn’t about building a genuine bond; it’s about conquest and slotting you into a preconceived plan or goal they have in mind. This is projection, not connection.

      Love-bombing: They zero in on you and give you their undivided attention right away. They make grand promises, and shower you with gifts or gestures that make you feel like you’re the most special person on earth. They paint an intoxicating picture of what your life together could be, and just when you’re hooked or don’t comply with their demands, they withdraw, becoming distant, mean, or critical. 

      Gaslighting: Whenever you voice discomfort or challenge their behavior or aspects of your relationship, they twist the situation to make it seem like you’re the problem. Suddenly, you’re the one apologizing and attempting to mend their feelings, even when you’re the one who’s been wronged.

      Asking you for money: This might sound straightforward, but there’s a particular scam called “pig butchering” which has resulted in victims losing an estimated $75 billion globally. It involves a scammer “fattening up” their target by building a relationship, nurturing trust, and often, fabricating a romantic or personal connection over time. Just like fattening up a pig before slaughter, the scammer invests time and effort into making their target feel special, understood, and valued. The “slaughter” occurs when the scammer creates a fabricated financial urgency or opportunity, asking the target to invest money or help out with a financial crisis. By the time the scam is revealed, the victim has often lost a significant amount of money. The process can be devastating—not just financially, but emotionally, as the victim grapples with the betrayal of trust and manipulation. If someone you’re newly dating or have only interacted with online asks for money, run the other way. 

      Finally, it’s essential to trust your gut instincts. When something feels “off” about someone, it’s likely because your subconscious has picked up signals that something doesn’t align with what’s being presented on the surface.

      Your subconscious mind is incredibly adept at picking up on subtle signals and nuances that your conscious mind might not immediately recognize. It gathers clues from body language, tone of voice, and patterns that don’t match up with the person’s words or the context. This intuitive process is your brain’s way of alerting you to potential threats or inconsistencies in someone’s behavior or the situation at hand. So, if your gut is telling you something isn’t right, listen to it. If you have doubts, please speak to someone you trust to give you some perspective. It’s very hard to see deception when you are in the midst of it.

      They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. In hindsight, I realize the cold, empty look in Seth’s eyes on our first date should have been a warning sign.

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