Rights & Money

Online Romance Scams Cost Canadians Millions

The key to not becoming a victim is to know what to watch for

By Matt Smith


Canadians lost more than $22.5 million in 2018 to fraudulent romantic partners they met on dating sites and through social media.

Romance scams usually follow a common pattern: a charming stranger woos the victim online, and an intense intimate relationship forms quickly. Once the victim is hooked, the scammer claims to be in trouble or in the midst of a personal tragedy and convinces the victim to send money, sometimes thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Canadian Anti Fraud Centre (CAFC) estimates that fewer than 5% of fraud cases are ever actually reported, so despite the prevalence of this scam, the total number of victims is much higher than we know.

Vigilance is key in avoiding being duped, and the CAFC lists some red flags to watch for:

Too good to be true
Be cautious if the person’s profile seems too perfect, especially if there are few details about him or her. Often, there will be very few photos on the scammer’s account, and those will be pretty generic—usually because they were lifted from a stock image archive or another person’s online profile. You can do a reverse image search to see if this is the case, and it’s wise to do a web search for the person’s name, as well.

No face to face
These scammers will go to great lengths to avoid having any contact with you beyond writing. You should be concerned if the person you are talking with repeatedly dodges suggestions to meet in person.

Moving fast
Despite avoiding meeting in person, romance scammers try to escalate the intensity of the relationship as quickly as possible. Be wary of anyone professing love for you if you’ve never met in person.

Asking for money
After they’ve gained your trust, romance scammers will come up with all sorts of excuses to ask for money. Often it’s to take care of a sick family member or even to buy a plane ticket to meet you. Never transfer money to someone you don’t know or provide any personal information such as banking details.

What can you do?
If you’re concerned that you’ve being targeted in a romance scam, it’s best to severe contact immediately. As this type of scam is designed to prey on your emotions, you’ll likely get a lot of pleading from the scammer, but avoid further contact unless he or she can prove his or her identity.

If you’ve transferred money to someone, contact your bank as soon as possible to see if the transfer can be stopped. The bank can also flag your account as at risk for fraud in case your banking details have been compromised. Record any and all information you have about the scammer and contact your local police and the CAFC.

Photo: iStock/SiberianArt.