Keep an Eye out for Romance Scams This Valentine’s Day

14 February 2016

As Cupid’s holiday approaches, police across the nation are urging Canadians to beware of scams targeting those looking for love online.

Fraudsters use online dating sites and apps to connect with potential victims year round. However, as Valentine’s Day approaches and inspires more people to log into their dating profiles, scammers have access to an even larger crop of members.

Romance scams can take a number of different forms, but they typically start like this: fraudsters put together an attractive persona on the site and start developing a relationship with one of their matches. As messages go back and forth, the two begin to build a level of trust, the scammers make their move. Some set their sights on gathering financial or personal information, asking personal questions in an effort to put together a profile they can use to carry out identity theft. Others ask for cash more directly, claiming a medical emergency has befallen them or a family member, or that they need money to cover travel expenses for an in-person meeting that will never occur.

According to police in Regina, these cases have cost victims up to tens of thousands of dollars. While not common, the police service told the CBC it has seen Canadians scammed out of as much as $80,000 to $100,000. These sums can grow so large in part because fraudsters are experts in leveraging trust and hope to convince victims to send them cash.

“They don’t ask for money until such time as they have the victim’s full confidence, trust and sometimes love,” Staff Sgt. Bob Koroluk told CBC News. “By then, the victim may have shared their intimate secrets and they feel very close with the person and they want it to be true.”

This trust, however misplaced, is a strong tie. In many cases, victims continue to send money to romance scammers even after they have been knowingly lied to again and again.

“Sometimes they believe that the person will come through for them,” Koroluk explained. “They still think that they’ll meet them and have a relationship.”

By staying vigilant and employing some basic smart browsing practices, however, most Canadians are able to enjoy their experience with online dating services fraud-free. To help protect your identity and your finances from romance scammers, keep these tips in mind:

  • Keep personal information out of your profile: While including details like your hobbies and favorite travel destinations can help you find the perfect match, avoid adding your address, phone number or workplace to your public profile. If you decide to share this information with someone, it’s best to wait to do so until you meet in person and decide to continue the relationship.
  • Don’t rush: While some scammers exercise patience, many jump into conversations with requests for personal information or money. If one of your conversations starts this way, chances are slim that the person on the other end has your best interests at heart.
  • Stay vigilant: Most fraudsters make it their mission to gain your trust before asking for personal details or cash, so it’s important to stick to the principle that you should not share sensitive information or transfer funds to anyone you haven’t met in person, no matter how long you have been talking online. As the Regina police service puts it, “Never allow feeling of flattery, loneliness or sympathy make you do something you do not feel right about doing.”
  • Steer clear of public Wi-Fi: Browsing on an unsecured network can make your computer vulnerable to hackers connected to the same hotspot. Any time you are logging into an account that requires a username and password, especially profiles that contain personal information, it’s a good idea to wait until you have access to a more secure network.

Signing up for a credit monitoring service can further bolster your identity theft protection, alerting you to certain activity on your credit file that may indicate fraud so that you can take further action, such as requesting a credit freeze. This option can be particularly helpful for individuals who put themselves out there online, as it can keep an eye on if their personal information is shared in certain places on the internet. To learn more, contact Identity Guard Canada today.