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March 01, 2024

Anatomy of a romance scam

Heart caught in mouse trap

BY SOUTHGREY.CA STAFF — The results can be traumatizing. Anger. Shame. Heartbreak. These are just some of the emotions that romance scam victims suffer, upon realization that they've been duped. That's to say nothing of any financial losses incurred over the course of their fraudulent correspondence.

Step 1

Imagine this. You're single. You're feeling lonely and open to meeting someone new. Suddenly a good-looking stranger starts talking to you online. It's as if they've known you for years.

It starts innocently enough. They may have seemingly contacted you by accident or candidly complimented you on something you posted. After a brief time, they begin to heap praise on you, engaging you in daily conversations which eventually lead to a declaration of loving feelings.

You're not dreaming. You're being stalked! According to the RCMP, fraudsters research potential victims online, including reviewing their social media posts, to develop a tailored strategy for each victim that improves their chances of success.

Step 2

Flushed with the excitement of a new romance, you reciprocate those affections in your correspondence. You want to meet your new sweetheart but they can't. The reasons they give seem plausible because they're baked right into their fake identity. Claiming to be on a faraway military base is the most popular excuse, but offshore oil rig worker is another common (and fake) occupation. They might also say they are living or traveling outside the country or working with an international organization.

The scammer's intention is to establish a relationship as quickly as possible, endear themself to you, and gain trust. Scammers may even propose marriage and make plans to meet in person, but that will never happen.

Step 3

The scammer then requests money, cryptocurrency, gifts, or investments. They might also send money to you in order to build further trust or engage you as a money mule or courier in an illegal transaction.

Some romance scammers tell you they’re sick, hurt, or in jail. The US Federal Trade Commission says romance scammers often ask their victims for money to pay for plane tickets or other travel expenses, surgery or other medical expenses, gambling debts, visas or other official travel documents.

But many fraudsters will offer to do you a favour. They may claim to be a successful cryptocurrency investor who’ll teach you how it’s done. But any money you invest goes straight into their wallet. In another twist, they might say they’ve shipped you a valuable package, which requires you to send money for customs or some other made-up fee. It’s all a lie. You send the money, and the package never arrives.

Step 4

Eventually you become aware of the scam, many times after handing over thousands of dollars, at which point the fraudster stops communicating with you. You're devastated.

Instead of finding companionship or love, you are just another number in an anonymous scammer's trail of broken hearts and empty bank accounts.

According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), Canadian romance fraud victims reported losing over $59 million to fraudsters in 2022. Ontario victims represented over $20 million of those losses.

Scammers will use photos stolen from the Internet, like these — pictures of Romanian actor and singer Aurelian Temisan. He's often used by scammers (he's married and not looking for love). To perform an online image search of your own, visit facecheck.id. The website will use face-recognition technology to uncover other images of the same person that might identify the person in your photo, or at least determine if the photo has been used in other fake profiles.

How to protect yourself

If you suspect you're being victimized by a romance scammer, here are some ways to protect yourself:

  • Conduct an online search. Try to learn the person's identity or see if their photo has been copied from the internet.
  • Beware of people who claim to have fallen in love fast and try to push the relationship forward quickly.
  • If you're being asked for money, this is a red flag. Don't send any and never send money to someone you haven't met!
  • Don't give out your personal information (name, address, DOB, SIN, banking credentials).
  • Don't accept friend requests from people you do not know.
  • Don't invest your money in platforms provided by people you don't know.
  • Be careful who you share images with. Suspects will often use explicit pictures to extort victims into sending more money.
  • Protect your online accounts.
  • Don't respond to text messages from phone numbers you do not recognize.
  • Learn more tips and tricks for protecting yourself.

If you fall victim to a fraud or know someone who has, contact your local police service to report the crime and also report it to the CAFC at 1-888-495-8501 or online on the Fraud Reporting System (FRS), even if a financial loss did not occur.

 


At South Grey News, we endeavour to bring you truthful and factual, up-to-date local community news in a quick and easy-to-digest format that’s free of political bias. We believe this service is more important today than ever before, as social media has given rise to misinformation, largely unchecked by big corporations who put profits ahead of their responsibilities.

South Grey News does not have the resources of a big corporation. We are a small, locally owned-and-operated organization. Research, analysis and physical attendance at public meetings and community events requires considerable effort. But contributions from readers and advertisers, however big or small, go a long way to helping us deliver positive, open and honest journalism for this community.

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