A Toronto-area woman is warning others to be wary when dating online, saying she was swindled by a man who is now facing fraud charges.
Jason Porter is accused of defrauding three women he met through online dating sites. The 37-year-old Toronto man was arrested last week and is now facing 23 charges, ranging from fraud to possession of property obtained by crime, to obtaining credit by fraud or false pretense. He is currently remanded in custody and set to make a video appearance in a Toronto court on Jan. 20.
Toronto police allege that Porter used the internet over a seven-month period to "contact single women via online dating websites, luring them into potential relationships." Police allege that once he'd gained the women's trust, he defrauded them of more than $40,000 by opening bank accounts and credit cards in their names.
Sarah, one of his alleged victims, told CBC News that Porter was "attentive" and "charismatic" and "seemed to ask all the right questions." CBC News has agreed to protect her identity.
"He was talking to me about family, and future, and rings. I took that seriously," she said.
"We were at a similar period in our life in that we were looking for the same things, and the timing was right between us in terms of where we were in our careers and where we were looking to go in terms of family and a relationship," she added.
Like many North Americans, Sarah turned to an online dating service to win in the game of love.
Just over a year ago, Sarah and Porter had their first date in Toronto’s tony Yorkville neighbourhood. She’d met Porter in November 2010 on PlentyofFish, a free Canadian online dating site. POF, as it’s known colloquially, is one of the biggest players in North America, boasting some 30 million registered members.
Sarah said Porter talked knowingly of the elementary schools in her hometown, and they had some acquaintances in common. He said he’d met her briefly while they were in university. He was charming, smart and seemed stable, saying he worked for a U.S.-based software company and had recently returned from a stint in China.
Feeling comfortable, she said she introduced him to her social circle, added him as a friend on Facebook and quickly let him into her life. He appeared to be the perfect boyfriend, she said — attentive, concerned and serious.
In February 2011, after three intense months — and on the eve of a trip together to Paris and Africa to visit his relatives —Sarah said Porter disappeared. She found herself with $800 in credit card charges, a mobile telephone bill in her name and shattered self-esteem. She discovered that the electronic airline tickets Porter had emailed were forgeries and that his African relatives – and their emails – were fabricated. She’d been duped and defrauded, she alleges.
She also said that Porter racked up $1,000 using her father’s credit card information, which he’d gathered when meeting her parents at Christmas.
Alarmed, Sarah went to police and learned that Porter was "known" to them. By conducting independent research at various courthouses in the Greater Toronto Area, CBC News has verified that Porter has a history of breaking and entering, theft over and under $5,000, forgery, and possession of stolen property dating back to 1995.
"It's not just the monetary situation,” said Sarah. "It's more the vulnerability of, the fear of him having all my information, my father’s information. All of that. And what is he going to do with it? Because he’s obviously very clever, and very smart, and very creative. And he knows what he is doing. So how do you outsmart this person? And how do you think ahead of them?"
In fact, Sarah and Porter met weeks after Porter’s release from from jail. He’d spent seven months in custody for having absconded with the vehicle of a former girlfriend, whom he had also met online through PlentyofFish, CBC News discovered.
Sarah's allegations, and those of other alleged victims, resulted in the charges facing Porter today.
"This is his job," Sarah told CBC News. "He tries to find relationships and he steals from those people. And then, you know, when that ends or when they’re onto him, then he moves on. That's just what he does."
As for Sarah, she has abandoned the online dating world.
"Now I'm absolutely horrified and repulsed by it. I see commercials and it makes me cringe," she said.
"I'm not entertaining that as an avenue for meeting people whatsoever. I just don't trust it."
2nd alleged online fraudster
Meanwhile, in another courtroom in downtown Toronto, a preliminary hearing began Monday for Arvind Sanmugam, 51, who allegedlyposed as a financier, businessman and CEO of a non-existent police academy.
Sanmugam is facing three counts of fraud, including an allegation that he defrauded his physician fiancée — whom he’d met on marriage-minded site eHarmony — of more than $300,000. He’s pleaded not guilty and his preliminary hearing is expected to last most of January.
In interviews with CBC News, the physician and her mother painted a picture of a charismatic and smooth-talking professional, who said he deeply cared about his future mother-in-law. She is widowed and has a mentally disabled son, whose care was costly, the women told CBC News.
"If you talk to him, he will impress you quite easily," said the mother, who described him as "sober and gentle and soft spoken."
Sanmugam allegedly convinced the pair to secure a mortgage on the mother’s home, promising to invest in stocks which would result in high returns and ease her financial burden.
"I am a senior citizen — my house was paid and financially I didn’t have any liability," the mother told CBC News.
"But I am sending my son to special, private program because there is nothing out there in the public community or public support to look after my son. So I didn't want my son to end up in jail or mental institution so I prefer my son, as long as I am around, to stay with me."
Initially, the "investment" yielded monthly payments of approximately $500, said the physician’s mother. Then the payments stopped.
The physician and her mother allege that when they began asking questions, Sanmugam was vague in providing details — he told them to be patient; that he was juggling several people’s funds. Sanmugam disappeared, leaving the physician and her mother with a mortgage of $300,000.
"He doesn't have any conscience, you know. Here I am, a widow, with a handicapped, mentally challenged son and how can people do that?"
The mother said Sanmugam hit the perfect combination by pursuing her daughter, because he could go after both of their assets.
"He killed two birds with one stone," she said.
When he was arrested in September 2010, the physician and her mother told CBC News they were stunned to learn that Sanmugam was in a common-law relationship, with two young children attending the posh Bishop Strachan private school.
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