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• Feb. 20, 2024

The modern-day "meet-cute" often happens online, whether through dating apps or social media platforms.

Unfortunately, among the millions of starry-eyed romantics, there are fraudsters out there looking to take advantage of relationship seekers through scams that begin online. In many of these cases the fraudsters pretend to fall in love with someone over the Internet, and then take advantage of them, exploiting their trust and often defrauding them of their hard-earned dollars.

Romance scams don't just mess with your emotions; they're incredibly costly, too. In 2023, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) said that romance scams cost 945 victims more than $50 million.

Here are some things you should know about this kind of fraud to help protect yourself and your loved ones.

How long do romance scams last?

Depending on the nature of the scam, and the potential financial payoff, romance scammers may spend weeks, months or even years building a relationship with their victims. Sometimes these relationships are built over phone, email, social media message and/or text messages, by sending photos and gifts, and by going to great lengths to earn their target's trust.

How do romance scammers defraud their victims?

The CAFC says that eventually, the scammer may urgently ask their victim for money, saying it's for something like emergency medical care. They might also ask a victim to receive money for them (which could make a victim unknowingly commit a crime), join in on a business venture, or invest in cryptocurrency.

In one case from 2017 reported by the RCMP's Financial Crimes Unit, a victim was slowly convinced over a seven year online "relationship" to drain her personal savings, and it was only when she had nothing left that her "suitor' disappeared.

Romance scams aren't just for dating sites

When you hear "romance scam" you might automatically think of dating sites. While it's true that romance scammers may lurk there, any social channel where people share information and make connections can be a destination for fraudsters. Guard your personal information and be selective about what you post online to help prevent yourself from being targeted.

Romance scams can happen to anyone

Seniors are often the target of sophisticated online scammers, according to the Government of Canada, but anyone can become the target of a romance scam, particularly those who may be lonely or vulnerable, and that's what these fraudsters are trained to look for.

According to the Canadian Internet Registration Authority's (CIRA) annual internet usage report, 50% of Canadians spend five or more hours online per day, with social media usage ranking as the third most popular online activity. Increased online time has been correlated to increased feelings of isolation, making many Canadians easy targets for fraudsters.

Romance scams are a big problem – but we don't know just how big

When it comes to all types of scams, the CAFC estimates that only 5-10% of victims report being defrauded, citing embarrassment and shame at being tricked as reasons for not reporting fraud. That means the real number of victims could be much, much higher than the nearly 1,000 reported to the CAFC in 2023.

How to help prevent a romance scam

When it comes to romance scams, there are usually red flags and warning signs to look for. Share these tips to help prevent your family and friends from being scammed:

  • Be wary if someone professes their love very quickly and/or consistently avoids any opportunity to meet in-person. In these cases, you should be extremely cautious.
  • Don’t trust strangers who ask for personal information or money.
  • Understand that once you've sent money, you may not be able to get it back. Be aware that certain types of funds transfers, like wire transfers or e-Transfers, may not be able to be cancelled or retrieved.
  • Be aware of the common elements of romance scams – the fraudsters' cover stories are typically similar. They might say they are engineers or military personnel stationed overseas, they have lost a spouse and/or have a young child. If you search "romance scam" online, you will find many examples of what to look for.

What can you do if you've been a victim of a romance scam?

Report it - If you believe you've been a victim of a romance scam, the RCMP recommends you contact your bank and place a stop payment on any cheque or cancel any electronic money transfer if it hasn't yet been deposited, and then report the incident to your local police. It is also a good idea to file a report with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre to help others.

Learn more and help others – The CAFC has compiled lists of some of the most prevalent scams currently employed across Canada to help you learn more.

Talk about it – While you may feel embarrassed, you are definitely not the first person who's been tricked by this nasty type of scam. Sharing your story can help others avoid being scammed.

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