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Romance scammers: ‘Are you falling in love, or falling victim?’

Ottawa (February 14, 2020) – On Valentine’s day, the RCMP brought to the attention of Canadians the danger of romance scams resulting from online relationships. According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), 682 Canadians reported in 972 complaints in 2019 for a combined loss of $19 million to romance scammers. Romance scammers often use fake profiles on social media or on popular dating apps. They often put considerable effort into building what appears to be serious relationships with their victims. Once the emotional hook is made, romace scammers will ask their victim for money, often without ever having met them.

In the spirit of Valentine’s day, many people are looking for love online. However, Cupid’s arrow does not always strike the right person. Romance scammers prey on online relationships and give their victims the feeling that love actually is in the air.

$19 million lost to romance scammers

In a press release, the RCMP drew attention to the dangers of online relationships and popped the question for potential romance scam victims: ‘Are you falling in love, or falling victim?’

In 2019, Canadians lost over $19 million to romance scams, according to the Canadian Anit-Fraud Centre (CAFC). They received 972 complaints related to romance scams that included 682 victims. Although, only a small fraction of the victims report the crime due to the huge emotional damage and humiliation that most of the victims are left with. Most victims of romance fraud do not bring civil actions either.

In 2017, the CAFC reported that Canadians lost $18 million to romance scam related incidents and, in 2018, romance scams were the costliest frauds reported by Canadians with a total loss of $22.5 million.

Be wary of potential romance scams

Romance scammers use fake profiles on social media or on popular dating apps, where they get in touch with their victims. In order to obtain an emotional hook, they often spend copious amounts of time talking or chatting with their victims sometimes several times per day to gain their trust. Ultimately the romance rogue will convince their mark that they are in love and committed to building a serious relationship with their victim. For many victims, the fraudsters say the very things they wanted to hear. After they gained their victim’s trust, the bogus Valentine’s make up a story with some kind of emergency and ask for money.

Romance scammers beguile their victims before they literally seduce them into handing over an average of $28,000 per victim. Experts assess these numbers as conservative and suggest that most romance frauds are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and sometimes even more.

Read more: Edmonton man arrested for alleged Orillia romance scam

Some romance scammers ask for money to pay for plane tickets or other travel expenses or to pay customs fees in order to retrieve something or to pay for a visa or other official travel documents. Other stories are even more dramatic wherein fraudsters ask their victims to pay for hospital stays or alleged medical expenses. Another often used scenario by scammers is that they pretend to be in debt and desperately need to pay off their gambling debt. Typically the romance rogue will allege they have significant funds themselves, but for whatever reason cannot get access to them at the time.

Never trust anyone you have not met in person

The RCMP urges Canadians to be vigilant while looking for relationships online and to never trust anyone you have not met in person. Telltale signs that your online Valentine may not be who they claim to be are e.g. if the person claims to live nearby but is (currently) working overseas on an oil rig, in the military, or as a doctor with an international organization. Furthermore, many online rogues are very quick to profess their love without having met, solely on the basis of their online chats.

Canadians looking for love online are advised by the RCMP to be suspicious of requests for money or ‘requests for personal or financial information, intimate photos or video that can later be used for blackmail, or for help transferring or holding funds, which may lead to the victim being unknowingly involved in a much larger fraud scheme.’

Read more: FBI indicted 80 people with fraud charges in connection to numerous online scams worldwide

Reporting scammers is critical

Anyone who believes to have been a victim of a romance fraud is recommended to stop all contact with the potential scammer and contact your financial institution to halt any outstanding payments. Additionally, it is recommended to contact your own fraud recovery counsel and have your scenario investigated. ‘Sometimes controlled conversations with the romance rogue with seasoned fraud investigators creating a script can elicit the evidence necessary to prove the underlying fraud, and to trace, freeze and recover the victim’s funds,’ advises fraud recovery lawyer Norman Groot.

‘Private fraud recovery counsel can take recovery measures much quicker than police agencies. If they can be afforded, fraud recovery counsel should be consulted prior to calling police. Once a fraud recovery project has been deemed a lost cause, it is appropriate and helpful to report on-line romance scams to police.’

Romance frauds can be reported at any time to the CAFC through their confidential online reporting system or by calling 1-888-495-8501. For more on romance scams and how to avoid them, visit the CAFC romance scam information page.