Swipe left! Five ways to avoid being swept off your feet by romance scams

February 01, 2024 | Portfolio Advisor – Winter 2024


Swipe left! Five ways to avoid being swept off your feet by romance scams

It’s a tale as old as time: a con artist, often under an assumed identity, targets a naïve or vulnerable individual and feigns romantic interest in them. The con artist gains their affection and trust, and, either through deception or manipulation or both, uses that affection and trust to exploit or steal from their target. It can leave the victim brokenhearted – and just broke. The greatest damage is often more psychological than financial, with victims left traumatized and ashamed. 

In today’s online world, these confidence operators can reach through the Internet, often via social media, to stalk, assess, and then target their victims. While it is easier today than ever to find their victims, these cyber scammers are often more successful in their nefarious deeds given the abundance of information that they can learn about their victims online, and this information can then be deployed to more easily and effectively gain the trust of, manipulate and control their targets.

According to the RCMP, in 2021: 

  • The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre received 1,928 complaints of romance frauds from 925 Canadian victims who suffered losses of more than $64 million, increases from 2020 of 25% and 129%, respectively. 
  • Romance scams were responsible for the second highest amount of fraud-related dollar loss, led only by investment scams.
  • Reported instances of romance fraud are likely 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.

(Source: Just the facts: Romance scams, RCMP website, May 26, 2022)

Five of (broken) hearts: Five romance scam “red flags” to watch for

Most victims of “sweetheart swindles” admit that they never saw it coming – after all, these are extremely skilled con artists who know what they are doing, and working on the basis that you do not. Avoiding these scams is often more about awareness and maintaining a healthy dose of skepticism regarding anything that comes up unexpectedly via social media or your email. Some of these red flags include:

1. The romance moves (too) quickly: If your new online “friend” comes on strong after just a few messages, they may be trying to get you emotionally invested quickly. Another concern is if they begin to pressure you to start chatting or messaging outside of a trusted dating app. Many dating sites/apps actively watch for scammers, so cyber criminals prefer to move you to “safer” ground and will often try to get targets to start emailing, texting or using a messaging app early on in the conversation.

2. A request for personal information: If someone begins asking you for your address, date of birth, parents’ names, financial information or any other type of personal information used to identify you, their interest is likely malicious.

3. A lack of personal details: If the person you are talking to asks you to share personal details about yourself — while being reluctant to do the same — this could be a sign they’re hiding something. They may also have only a few vague profile photos of themselves online, compared to the many pictures authentic users tend to have.

4. Avoiding meeting up in-person: A common lie is that the scammer is unable to meet in person as they are living or travelling outside the country, in the military, or working in a remote area. If they do agree to a meeting, an “emergency” often comes up at the last minute, such as car trouble, a declined credit card, a sick friend, pet or relative (all of which represent a great way for them to ask for help…).

5. Requesting money: As they build their relationship and their victim becomes emotionally invested, invariably a “situation” will occur and the con will ask for money. Common requests include asking for help paying medical expenses, buying a ticket to visit you, or helping them pay fees to get them out of trouble. Many scammers will ask their victim to accept an e-transfer on their behalf, or transfer or receive packages for them, which is often a cover for illegal activity.

“Thanks, but I’m washing my hair that night”: Five ways to avoid romance scams

According to RBC’s cybersecurity experts, here are five ways to avoid becoming a victim of a romance racket:

  • Never give away personal information such as your address, date of birth, social insurance number or financial information to someone you have only met online.
  • Do not accept e-transfers on someone else’s behalf.
  • Avoid sending compromising images or revealing sensitive information about yourself. 
  • Do research into an individual’s presence on multiple other platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, to help ensure they are who they say they are. You can also reverse image search using a photo of them from their dating profile to confirm their identity.
  • If you or a loved one have been a victim of a romance scam, report it to the police, your financial institution and the dating or social media platform the scammer used to make contact. 

As with all things on the Internet and social media, it is important to stay aware, listen to your instincts and talk with your friends and family about the people you meet. To learn more, check out the RBC cybersecurity site for more information and to sign up to their free scam alerts service

This information is not intended as nor does it constitute tax or legal advice. Readers should consult their own lawyer, accountant or other professional advisor when planning to implement a strategy. This information is not investment advice and should be used only in conjunction with a discussion with your RBC Dominion Securities Inc. Investment Advisor. This will ensure that your own circumstances have been considered properly and that action is taken on the latest available information. The information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the time obtained but neither RBC Dominion Securities Inc. nor its employees, agents, or information suppliers can guarantee its accuracy or completeness. This report is not and under no circumstances is to be construed as an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy any securities. This report is furnished on the basis and understanding that neither RBC Dominion Securities Inc. nor its employees, agents, or information suppliers is to be under any responsibility or liability whatsoever in respect thereof. The inventories of RBC Dominion Securities Inc. may from time to time include securities mentioned herein. RBC Dominion Securities Inc.* and Royal Bank of Canada are separate corporate entities which are affiliated. *Member-Canadian Investor Protection Fund. RBC Dominion Securities Inc. is a member company of RBC Wealth Management, a business segment of Royal Bank of Canada. ® / TM Trademark(s) of Royal Bank of Canada. Used under license.


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