Online safety / February 12, 2020

Seeking your soulmate safely online

Nimmi Kanji

Nimmi Kanji

Director - Social Purpose Programs, For Good and TELUS Wise

Man with laptop on couch

Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching. With hearts, flowers and rom coms on everyone’s minds, many unattached people consider reigniting their search for the one. In their quests for love, many head online to swipe, type and hope for that perfect match.

Online dating can be really great. In fact, it's the third most popular means of meeting a long-term partner. I know several couples that met online, with one even marrying. But like anything online these days, there are pros and cons. Not everyone putting up a profile pic and some pithy prose always has pure intentions.

If you’re looking for love this Valentine’s Day, there are some trends to be aware of and general safety tips to keep in mind before you swipe right or left or drop into someone’s DMs.

Romance scams are on the rise

When people are lonely, vulnerable and looking for love or companionship, inevitably (and unfortunately), there are people that will take advantage of it. Nobody is immune. That’s why it’s important to understand how romance scammers prey on innocent people looking to make a real connection.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) defines romance scams as, “any individual with false romantic intentions toward a victim in order to gain their trust and affection for the purpose of obtaining the victim’s money or access to their bank accounts or credit cards. In some cases the suspect will even attempt to get the victim to commit fraud on their behalf, as a money mule (accepting, then transferring money or goods) often unknowingly. Most romance scams begin via social media sites or online dating sites.”

According to the RCMP (based on CAFC data), in 2018, romance scams were the number one scam in Canada in terms of dollars lost. Approximately 760 victims reported being scammed, to the tune of $22.5 million, or an average of $30,000 per victim. The total damage is likely even higher, as many don’t report incidents out of fear or shame. Romance scams have now surpassed all other types of fraud.

Misrepresentation or a scam?

When trying to meet someone online, the truth is that you’re just interacting with faces and words on a screen. So it’s important to find the balance between open mindedness and caution.

Not everyone online is looking for access to your bank accounts, but they may not be 100% truthful either. General rule – trust your gut. If it feels fishy, it probably is. And if someone asks for money, don’t send it, no matter how urgent he or she makes it seem.

To make sure that you’re interacting with a person with good intentions, pay attention to how they represent themselves:

  • Does the person have multiple photos in his/her profile that all look similar and show his/her face? Analyze the photos carefully – if the image looks scanned, there is only one image or the photo looks like stock imagery, you may want to move on.
  • What is the nature of your early interactions? People looking to date and meet in person will try to get to know you by asking curious questions rather than getting lewd or rude right away.
  • Are they really unattached? It may seem like a strange consideration if someone is on an online dating site or messaging privately with a stranger, but there are many married people who may be pursuing extra-curricular activities. Ask direct questions about the person’s status.

How to spot the scammers

You may have met the partner of your dreams, but if you recognize any of these red flags, you should be extra vigilant.

  • The person is not local full time – he or she may claim to live nearby but work overseas
  • The person wants to quickly begin communicating outside of the application (i.e. on Messenger, WhatsApp or texting) and professes love and devotion after a short time
  • Makes promises to meet in person but never follows through
  • Requests intimate photos (sometimes used for blackmail) or personal/financial information
  • Claims to have a lucrative business but still needs financial help
  • Creates fake urgency with an emergency situation that requires a sum of money to resolve (amounts may be small to begin with but grow over time)
  • Asks you to transfer money or goods elsewhere
  • Gets irate, bullies or uses guilt if you say no to financial requests

If you find yourself in this type of situation, stay calm and take steps to protect yourself. Gather all pertinent information – the person’s profile name, contact method, social media screen shots, email – and contact the police. Report the incident to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, either by phone or through the online submission form. And notify the site where you connected with the alleged scammer.

Targeting seniors

Many of these romance scammers are targeting seniors, especially widows who are, for the first time, alone and seeking companionship online.

Global News recently reported about an Ottawa woman who was wooed online, and then scammed for $3,000. And then there was Margaret. When she lost her husband and life partner, friends suggested she try meeting someone online for companionship or friendship. Unfortunately, she fell victim to a scammer who took advantage of her vulnerability, kindness and life’s savings.

During the course of their 11-month online relationship (they never met in person), Margaret transferred more than $140,000 to her new found “love” for “emergencies” and other pressing financial needs. It is money she will never recover, and the financial losses have impacted her quality of life significantly.

If you are looking for love online this Valentine’s Day, swipe and type with vigilance. Be aware of the red flags associated with romance scammers, so if a match displays any, you can move on without incident. Best of luck in your search!

Frauds & scams
Online dating
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