In 2021, 323 million people used dating apps or dating sites to meet new people. But, over 8,000 competitive online dating sites and platforms worldwide also attract romance scammers. And with more love-seekers expected to use dating sites over the holidays, 2023 could be an explosive and profitable year for scammers.
In Canada, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), Canadians reported more than $42.2 million in personal losses to romance scams. But less than five percent of victims report being scammed, meaning the financial and emotional damage could be much higher.
What is a romance scam?
Typically, a scammer contacts a victim using a dating app or website. Fraudsters will open accounts on reputable social media and dating platforms. They will create fictitious profiles and identities by utilizing stock images or hijacking someone’s online identity.
To boost the likelihood of catching someone off guard, they might seize ownership of a person’s close friend’s social media account or leverage social media to research someone to target them directly. The scammer then tailors a profile with similar likes and experiences in life, and once contact is established, they bombard their victims with praise. Who wouldn’t want that?
The victim is middle-aged to senior-aged, well-educated, financially stable, recently widowed, or a divorcee ready to date again, but anyone could be a victim. As the scam continues, the emotionally savvy and artful manipulating scammer has their victims believing they have fallen in love, and that is when the scammer requests money.
How romance scams work
Soon, the person legitimately looking for love will desire to fulfil any promises they make to the scammer—chatting somewhere else in private or requesting more provocative and revealing images. If the victim questions the favours, the fraudster will start making emotional gaslighting demands. For example, “Please don’t let me down! I want to know that you are with me,” or “I thought we were in love, guess not?”
Telltale signs it’s a scam
They’re on the other side of the planet
One of the first giveaways of a romance scammer is their background. Fakers often pose as someone stationed or posted abroad to create a reason they can’t meet in person. Some familiar stories include:
- They’re working on an oil rig.
- They’re in the military and deployed overseas.
- They’re doctors in an international organization.
- They’re working on a construction project far away.
Their profile seems unlikely
A legitimate dating profile usually has many photos of the person in different situations and links to their social media accounts. A dating profile might be fake if the person doesn’t list the usual details, but what they listed are the many similarities to their victims.
The relationship is fast out of the gate
A romance scammer will gain your trust right out of the gate. You’ll be seeing stars. Some common tactics include the following:
- Profess their love to you quickly.
- Ask you to marry them.
- Make a promise you will see each other.
- Come up with different excuses to avoid chatting on video.
- And break promises to visit.
They need cash. Now! Fast!
The ask is an enormous flag. Beware if your online love interest asks you for money, and you haven’t met them. They will ask you to send money via wire transfer, preloaded card gifts, or to a new bank account for:
- Travel expenses like a plane ticket or visa to visit you.
- Medical expenses like surgeries.
- Settling their gambling debts.
- Or family or personal emergencies.
Here are some avoidance tips
- Send no money to anyone that you meet online.
- Don’t give anyone or any website your personal information.
- Do an image search to avoid catfishing.
- Insist on video chats.
- Meet someone in-person before starting a romantic relationship.
- If they claim to be in the military, that’s usually a red flag.
- Become a cyber investigator. Snoop a little!
- Seek someone you trust for a second opinion. And trust in the response.
Following cyber-safe best practices like monitoring and avoidance tips can help you and your family protect your family against romance scams.
To learn more about consumer concerns and romance scams, you can download our mobile app, FRAUDSTER, available on Apple and Android. You can learn more at www.FraudsterApp.com.
If you’ve already downloaded the FraudsterApp, click the training icon on the home screen to learn to protect yourself.