Online safety / February 11, 2024

Online romance scams: Protecting your heart and wallet

June Kinloch

June Kinloch

Project Manager II, TELUS Wise

Smiling person looking at their phone.

Meeting a potential love interest has become easier than ever before. With just a few clicks, you can connect with people from all over the world, opening up a world of possibilities for romantic relationships. However, along with the convenience and excitement of online dating comes the risk of falling victim to online romance scams. These scams have become increasingly prevalent, leaving many individuals heartbroken and financially devastated. According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, 945 Canadian victims lost $50.3 million to romance scams in 2023 - and because this represents only what was reported, the impact is likely much greater.

Online romance scams involve fraudsters who create fake profiles on dating websites or social media platforms with the goal of establishing relationships with unsuspecting individuals. These scammers often pose as attractive, successful individuals who are looking for love and companionship. They invest time and effort into building emotional connections with their targets, gaining their trust and affection. Once the scammer has established a strong bond, they begin to manipulate their victims into sending money or providing personal and financial information.

One of the most common tactics used by online romance scammers is the "emergency" scenario as seen in the The Tinder Swindler documentary. They fabricate stories of personal crises or unexpected financial hardships and claim to urgently need money for medical expenses, travel costs, or to start a business. Their stories are designed to evoke sympathy and compassion, making it difficult for victims to say no - especially after they’ve already developed romantic feelings for the fraudster.

Below are some tell-tale signs that you’re being romanced by a scammer:

  • They present themselves as the perfect package: Scammers often create profiles that seem too perfect. They use attractive photos of others as their own, claiming to have high-paying jobs or glamorous lifestyles.
  • They profess their love early on before they’ve met you face to face: Scammers tend to profess their love and devotion, also known as “love bombing”, very early in the relationship. They may use elaborate and extravagant language and make false promises. Be wary of someone who falls in love too quickly without having met you in person.
  • They ask you to send money to help them with an emergency situation or to cover their travel expenses to come and see you: This is a major red flag and a common tactic used by scammers. Never send money to someone you have only met online, especially if they ask for it early in the relationship. And remember, once it’s sent, it’s nearly impossible to get it back.
  • They have inconsistencies in their story: Pay attention to any inconsistencies or discrepancies in the information they provide. Scammers often forget details or change their stories, as they are likely managing multiple fake profiles at once.
  • They cancel plans to video chat or meet in person: If someone avoids video calls or meeting in person, it could be a sign that they are not who they claim to be. Genuine individuals will be eager to connect face-to-face.

Now that you are aware of the tell-tale signs, here are some tips to protect yourself from online romance scams:

Do your research: Before getting emotionally invested in someone, conduct a thorough online search. Look for any information that verifies their identity and background. Reverse image search their profile pictures to verify their authenticity and check for duplicates and stolen or stock images.

Protect your personal information: Be cautious about sharing personal and financial information with someone you have only met online. Scammers can use this information to steal your identity or commit fraud.

Trust your instincts: If something feels off or too good to be true, trust your gut. Take your time to get to know someone before fully trusting them.

Stay on the dating platform: Avoid moving conversations to private messaging platforms too quickly. Scammers will often encourage you to chat elsewhere in order to circumvent the security measures dating platforms have in place to detect and remove scammers.

Report suspicious activity: If you suspect you are being targeted by a scammer, report the profile to the dating platform and local authorities. By reporting, you can help prevent others from falling victim to the same scam.

By being aware of the warning signs and taking necessary precautions, you can protect yourself from falling victim to romance scams that prey on vulnerable people looking for love. Remember to trust your instincts, do your research, and never send money to someone you have only met online. Be cautious if you plan to meet in person and prioritize your safety and well-being while searching for love online.

Frauds & scams
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