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Romance scams are nothing new. Scammers and con artists have been taking advantage of people looking for love for centuries. These scams can devastate those who get tricked out of money, information, and a relationship they thought was real.
These days, fraudsters have the advantage of connecting online — through social media or dating apps — making it easier for them to fool unsuspecting soulmate-searchers.
It can start with a “Hi” and an attractive profile photo, but romance scammers can be very talented and convincing. Knowing these red flags can make romance scams easier to spot — and to shut down.
5 romance scam red flags to watch for:
1. The romance moves very quickly
Every relationship moves at its own pace, and hitting it off with someone new isn’t out of the question. But if someone pressures you to start chatting or messaging outside of a trusted dating app, this could be a red flag. Remember, reputable dating sites and apps have tools to help spot scammers and remove them from their platforms. That’s one reason scammers often try to get people to start emailing, texting or using a messaging app early on in the conversation instead.
And, if they come on strong after just a few messages, they may be trying to get you emotionally invested quickly.
2. A request for personal information
If someone you meet online 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 may be malicious.
3. They avoid meeting up in-person
A common lie scammers tell is that they’re unable to meet in person. They might say they’re living or travelling outside the country, in the military, working on an oil rig, or with an international organization.
If they do agree to a meeting, an “emergency” often comes up at the last minute — like car trouble, a declined credit card, a sick friend, pet or relative. This is another potential red flag that something is amiss. These made-up emergencies often act as a perfect opportunity to ask you for financial help.
4. Request for money
Scammers know that Canadians are savvy and not likely to send money to someone they just met online. But as the relationship builds and you’re emotionally invested, a situation will invariably occur, and your new friend will ask for money. Common requests include asking for help paying medical expenses (for them or a family member), buying a ticket to visit you or helping them pay fees to get them out of trouble. If someone asks for money before you even meet them in person, this is a clear sign that the person you’re chatting with isn’t who they say they are.
Along the same lines, many scammers will ask their “love interests” to accept an e-transfer on their behalf or transfer or receive packages for them. Beware of such requests as they may be a cover for illegal activity.
5. A lack of personal details
Communication is a two-way street, and if the person you’re 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.
How to protect yourself from romance scams
When dealing with any potentially fraudulent situation, the best advice is to take a step back and try to assess what’s going on objectively. If your instincts tell you something seems off, they’re probably right!
Beyond trusting your gut, here are some important ways to protect yourself from romantic scammers:
Never give away personal information such as your address, date of birth, social insurance number or financial information to someone you’ve only met online.
Don’t accept e-transfers on someone else’s behalf.
Avoid sending compromising images or revealing sensitive information about yourself. Such data could lead to a blackmail situation.
Do some research. Dig into their 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.
Report it! If you or a loved one has 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. Victims often feel embarrassed, but staying silent allows scammers to continue their efforts.
Romance scams are a particularly cruel form of trickery, as these criminals not only steal money and information but can also cause emotional distress and feelings of shame in their victims.
It’s important to stay aware, listen to your gut, and talk with your friends and family about the people you meet. Even if you get fooled by a charming actor, someone from the outside looking in may be in a better position to help you to spot a scam.
This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.