This might sound familiar:
You’ve created a profile on a dating site or app, hoping to meet someone special.
Someone catches your attention, and you strike up a conversation. They quickly show interest in your personal life.
Soon, they ask to move the conversation off the app or website.
It may seem harmless enough, even flattering. But the person behind the keyboard or phone may not be who you think they are. And they could be trying to lead you into a romance scam.
Let’s take a closer look at some common tactics used by romance scammers, and ways to help you, or someone you care about, from becoming a target.
What You Should Know About Romance Scams
Romance scammers lure victims into false or misleading relationships, often with the intention to steal money or commit other types of fraud.
Canadians Have Lost Millions to Romance Scammers
Yes, it really happens. And it can happen to anyone.
According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), Canadians reported more than $18.3 million dollars in losses to all types of romance scams in 2019. British Columbians reported losing more than $2.2 million dollars to romance scams in the same year. The CAFC estimates that less than 5% of victims report fraud, meaning the financial and emotional damage could be much higher.
How Romance Scams Typically Work
Romance fraud or online dating scams come in many forms, including investment offers. Typically, there are some common moves fraudsters will make to find targets.
- Setup Profile: Fraudsters usually create accounts on legitimate dating apps and websites. They’ll construct fake profiles and personas by using stock photos or stealing someone’s identity.
- Hook and Reel: A scammer can play the long game. Similar to the example above, they may initiate a conversation or sit back and wait for someone to match with their fake profile. Once the targets are established, the hook and reel begins.
- Build Trust: A romance scam target might receive a constant stream of affectionate e-mails and messages. The fraudster will do this to build interest, attachment, and trust.
- Request Finances: Then, at some point, the fraudster will bring up finances. It could be a broad range of scenarios – business struggles, investment opportunities, family emergencies, or even asking for money to purchase a plane ticket so they can come visit.
You Could Be Pulled into a Criminal Network
Scammers can be sophisticated. They may coordinate with others to operate schemes at a higher level. That means the personal and financial information you disclose to someone online can be shared within a global system. So, your love interest could actually be an entire network of scammers, and that could cause further financial and emotional devastation. This was the case in a romance scam involving a woman living in BC, which had tragic consequences.
Warning Signs of a Telltale Romance Scam
These are some of the common lies that romance scammers will tell to build trust with their victims.
1. They Cannot Meet You in Person
Sometimes fraudsters claim to live nearby, but they can’t meet face-to-face because they’re currently not in the country. Often they’ll come up with a profession that justifies why they’re overseas. Common jobs can include working on oil rigs, deployed in the military, and employed as a medical professional with an international organization.
2. They Avoid Video Chats
Have you been talking to someone online who has the time to send Shakespearean-worthy love poems several times a day, but can’t seem to find time for a video chat? There could be a more sinister reason at play. In many cases, a scammer will mask their real identity by using stock photos or photos stolen from someone else’s profile. A video call could quickly compromise their fake persona.
3. They Tend to Fall in Love Quickly
Romance fraudsters need to build trust and affection with their victims. Often, fraudsters will profess their love early on in relationships and flood you with affectionate messages. This is also known as “love bombing.” They also tend to rush talks centering around big life events, like marriage and children, before even trying to meet in person.
4. They Steer the Conversation Toward Finances
Once empathy and attachment begins to form in relationships, romance fraudsters may ask for money. This could happen in various ways. A fraudster might say:
- they have a lucrative investment opportunity lined up and want you to be part of it.
- they need help paying for an emergency medical situation.
- their business is struggling financially.
- they want to visit you, but need help covering costs for travel documents.
- they have considerable assets in another country, but need money to unlock them.
It’s important to be aware that even if you meet someone in person, they might not be who they claim they are. Victims across Canada have shared stories of being scammed after meeting a romantic partner in real life.
Examples of Real Life Romance Scams
A Group of Women Are on the Hunt for an Alleged Con Man
Women across Canada claiming they were duped in romance schemes by the same alleged fraudster have banded together to try and track him down. One of the women says the man, known to her as Dre, met with her several times and said he wanted to build a life together. He asked her to deposit a cheque in her bank account and then transfer some of the funds to him. Later, she learned the cheque had bounced, leaving her nearly $20,000 in debt. “Dre” was gone too.
Key Warning Signs
- Some of the victims say the alleged con man had a similar back story – he claimed to be an overseas oil rig worker with considerable assets/money in Vietnam, but he needed money to go get them.
- The man professed his love quickly, promising a future together with several victims.
Maple Ridge Romance Fraudster Takes Thousands of Dollars from Victims
A number of victims came forward to say they suffered financial losses at the hands of a Maple Ridge man who pled guilty to various counts of fraud in September 2018. One woman said she met the man through an online dating site before meeting in person. She said he convinced her to apply for, then max out, numerous credit cards. She reportedly lost more than $200,000 in the scam.
Key Warning Signs
- The fraudster sent the woman daily affectionate text messages.
- He talked about finances and offered a $30,000 return in exchange for a loan (although he claimed he came from a wealthy family).
An Ontario Man Says He Could Lose His Home After Being Duped
An Ontario man says his credit is maxed out and his home could be on the line following a romance scam. The man decided to try online dating after his wife passed away. He began chatting with a woman and they met in person about six months later. Not long after, she began asking for money for medical operations. The man handed her cheques worth tens of thousands of dollars. Now, he says he has $300,000 worth of debt, and the woman is nowhere to be found.
Key Warning Signs
- The woman brought up finances early on in the relationship, asking for large sums of money for medical procedures.
- Although they met in person, the victim said they only met about six times over a four year period.
How to Protect Yourself Against Romance Scams
When we trust people, we let our guard down. We don’t check the things we would normally look in to. This is what romance scammers (and other fraudsters) rely on to take your money. Protect yourself by following these steps:
1. Check that they are who they say they are
- Drag their photographs into a Google reverse image search, to see if their image is being used by someone completely different or if it is a stock photo.
- Do online searches of the individual’s name and their company, including their name + scam. For example, “John Doe + scam.”
- Review the company website. Are there unfinished pages? Are there typos? Does it make sense? Copy and paste the website text into a search engine to see if it appears on other websites.
- Do a WhoIs search to see who the website is registered to, and check that person out.
- If possible, meet them in person in a safe and public place.
2. Check the person’s background in offering investments
- Are they registered to sell investments? Check the National Registration Database.
- Have they/their company been disciplined? Check the CSA’s Disciplined List.
- Has the investment been cease traded? Check the National Cease Trade Order Database.
3. Ask questions and don’t be satisfied until you get answers
Ask for the documents that explain the investment. Did you receive an offering memorandum or prospectus? If you received documents, did you carefully read them? Is the person registered to sell securities? If not, why not?
4. Check whether the offer makes sense
Scammers know that you are too smart to be hooked by an offer that is too good to be true, so they will:
- make it look like the investment is safe; for example, because there are assets or guarantees in place.
- apply pressure on you to invest quickly.
- try and override your gut instinct that something’s not right.
5. Know the Fraud Warning Signs
Be on the lookout for these five fraud warning signs if you’ve been offered a suspicious investment opportunity:
- High Return | No Risk | Guaranteed Investments
- Pressure to Buy
- Fear of Missing Out
- Questions Not Answered
- Trust Trap
To recap, watch out for investment opportunities from someone who:
- is not registered to sell investments.
- has been disciplined for securities law violations before.
- applies pressure for you to invest quickly.
- makes excuses for not meeting in person.
- uses a stock photo or the same picture appears online with a different name.
- asks you to send copies of your ID or provide personal information - e.g. your social insurance number (SIN).
- asks you to send money or provide bank account information.
- proposes marriage before you have met in person.
Additional Resource: Learn How to Spot Investment Scams
There are some common methods that fraudsters may use to lure people into investment schemes. Learn more about how to spot common scams by taking our free fraud e-mail course.
Report a Concern
If you have any concerns about a person or company offering an investment opportunity, please contact BCSC Inquiries at 604-899-6854 or 1-800-373-6393 or through e-mail at [email protected]. You can also file a complaint or submit a tip anonymously using the BCSC’s online complaint form.
BCSC staff ambassadors tour the province, helping people protect themselves from fraud and unsuitable investments. Our goal is to enable BC investors to develop critical thinking skills to inform them of steps they should take to protect themselves when investing. Where we are this month Burnaby Be Fraud Aware February 5 Private event Abbotsford Be […]
The British Columbia Securities Commission’s Criminal Investigations Team has arrested Hal (Mick) Allan McLeod (aka Michael Smith) for breaching a lifetime ban against selling securities. The ban was imposed by a BCSC panel in 2009 in response to McLeod’s role in masterminding the Manna scheme, a series of fraudulent investments that lost over US $13 million […]