Vol. 79, No. 4Just the facts

Computer keyboard with male-female pictograms and a broken heart.

Romance scams

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Dating websites can be a hunting ground for scammers, who create fake online profiles in hopes of wooing unsuspecting victims. Those who fall for romance scams are often conned out of thousands of dollars — only to find out their love is a lie. This fast-growing type of fraud has increased as dating websites have gained traction, threatening romance seekers worldwide.

  • Romance scams happen when fraudsters use fake online profiles with stolen photos to lure potential victims into relationships on dating websites or on social media sites. After building trust, the scammers eventually ask for money or bank info, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC).
  • In most cases, fraudsters live in other countries. They ask for money to help cover travel costs to see their new lover (but never arrive), or will use stories of fake tragedies, medical problems or other hardships to solicit money, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
  • To gain the trust and affection of victims, scammers will often send gifts, flowers and tokens of love to prove their intentions are genuine. Typically, the higher the trust level, the more money lost by the victim, according to the RCMP.
  • Some of these fake relationships can last years, costing victims anywhere from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands. In one case, a Toronto woman lost more than $450,000 over the course of seven years. The case is now being investigated by the Toronto Police Service.
  • In 2016, more than 750 people across Canada lost more than $17 million to scammers. That works out to about $23,000 lost per victim, according to the RCMP.
  • Romance scams are the highest grossing scams compared to other Internet frauds according to the CAFC's 2016 statistics. Wire fraud (fraudulent email requests) and identity theft placed second and third respectively for dollar loss by Canadians.
  • Despite being first place for dollars lost, romance scams placed 16th for the number of complaints the CAFC received in Canada — 1,146 complaints and 774 victims in 2016.
  • According to data from the CAFC, the amount of money lost in romance scams has increased over the last five years — from $12 million in 2011, to $17 million in 2016.
  • Reported instances of romance fraud are probably much lower than actual numbers because many victims never report the crime or tell their loved ones due to shame, fear of ridicule and denial.
  • Most dating fraud originates in Nigeria and Ghana, as well as in Malaysia and England, which have large West African communities, according to the FBI.
  • Online scammers usually prey on older, emotionally vulnerable single people. Most victims of dating scams are those in their 40s and 50s, according to the RCMP.
  • In 2015, the FBI received 9,890 complaints from victims 40 to 60, while just 2,373 complaints were from victims 39 and under.
  • Data from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's Scamwatch indicates that men and women are equally likely to be victims of romance scams.
  • However, Scamwatch's reports show that Australian women lost more money per scam — almost $12,000 on average, compared to an average loss of $7,000 reported by their male counterparts.
  • If you believe you've been a victim of a romance scam, the RCMP recommends you contact your bank and place a stop payment on any cheque or money transfer, report it to your local police and file a report with the CAFC.
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