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“That could never happen to me.” 6 ways to avoid falling for a romance scam.

By Diane Amato

Published February 9, 2024 • 5 Min Read

Stories of romance scams are increasingly common. While it’s easy to think you’d never fall for such a scam, victims are every age, gender, education level and profession. One of the best ways to avoid being scammed is to acknowledge that it could happen to you.

Romance scams are an international business. In the last several years, scammers around the world have defrauded victims out of billions of dollars. And while the elderly are among the most scammed demographic, more and more young and digitally savvy individuals are victims of romance scams. The people behind these scams are exceptionally good at what they do and can expertly trick those looking for love into giving up their hearts, their trust and their money.

Surveys reveal that many people fall victim to romance scams on Valentine’s Day, likely owing to the loneliness of the holiday and the nature of scammers who prey on those feeling vulnerable. This Valentine’s Day, if you’re looking for love, here are ways to protect yourself.

Six ways to avoid falling for a romance scam

1. Recognize it could happen to you

People of all ages have fallen for a romance scam. Many people assume that scammers only target the elderly and primarily women. But recent studies indicate that adults 18 to59 are 13% more likely to fall for a romance scam than adults over 60. And, while women might file more reports of fraud, men report higher losses. Victims also have a range of education levels and professional success

It’s important to understand that anyone can fall for a romance scam and to keep watch for red flags throughout an online relationship.

2. Ask for a photo

Often, romance scammers’ profile photos are abstract, closely cropped or staged. When you’ve met someone online, ask them for a current photo. One great idea is to ask them to pose with a specific item – like an avocado or a lightbulb or a spoon. If they’re using someone else’s images, this is a photo that’s hard to fake! And if the person on the other end of the conversation is in fact the real deal, it’s not an offensive request. Just maybe a little quirky.

Extra tip: Never send compromising photos of yourself, especially to someone you’ve never met in person. They could be used as blackmail.

3. Ask detailed questions

Romance scammers are sometimes communicating with several potential victims at one time, and therefore have a standard profile they use. They tend to keep details about themselves vague and don’t share a great deal of personal information. By asking specific, detailed questions – about where they grew up, their siblings, what they do for a living and where they went to school – you can easily spot inconsistencies in their story. And, this information help you better get to know a legitimate person better, without the questions seeming out of place.

4. Be careful what you post online

While romance scams often start on online dating sites, scammers are increasingly finding targets on social media. If you post a lot of personal information about yourself on your social accounts, it’s easy for scammers to say all the right things to create a quick attraction. For instance, if your feed is all about the hikes you take with your dog, a scammer can pose as an outdoorsy dog-lover to spark your interest.

5. Do your own research

It’s rare to encounter someone these days without a social media presence of some kind. As you establish an online relationship, do your homework by viewing their social media profiles. If they have few (or no) connections, or all their “friends” are located overseas, this could mean trouble. You can also do a reverse image search to see if their photos are real. By right clicking on the image of the person and copying the image to you can see websites where the image appears. If it’s a stock photo, or the photo belongs to someone else, you’ll be able to tell if the person is a fake.

6. Get a second opinion

As the saying goes, “love is blind.” When an online relationship flourishes, and you feel a genuine connection with someone, it can be difficult to step back and spot warning signs. However, your online relationship is going, it’s best to have someone you trust take a look at the profile and give their thoughts on the relationship. They may see something that you miss.

Today, online dating is the most popular way couples meet and the technology behind dating apps can help people find compatible, lifelong matches. If you are looking for a relationship online, keep to popular sites, watch for warning signs and use the tips above to stay safe.

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.

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