Don’t be romanced into a scam this Valentine’s Day

From BMO
Press release

Online dating and social media sites make it seem easy to find the right person and while these sites attract a lot of single people seeking partners, they also attract criminals looking for vulnerable victims.

Romance scams are a significant and growing concern in Canada and the U.S. where scammers express false romantic intentions toward victims to gain their trust in order to access their money (cash, gift cards, credit card information), personal information and/or bank accounts. Romance scams have increased significantly since the pandemic and in 2022 the FTC, reported that nearly 70,000 people reported a romance scam and losses hit a staggering $1.3 billion in the U.S. In Canada, the RCMP reports that Romance scams were responsible for the second highest amount of fraud-related dollar loss in 2021 with a loss of more than $50 million, led only by investment scams.

Larry Zelvin, Head of Financial Crimes at BMO, offers the below tips and highlight how your audience can protect themselves and their loved ones from Romance Scams this Valentine’s Day and beyond –

Here’s what to watch for to prevent you or a loved one from falling victim to this type of scam:

  1. Profile is “too good to be true”: Scammers start with fake profiles (called catfishing) that feature people who are typically very attractive and have trustworthy jobs, such as military personnel. They may claim to live locally but work overseas or in another country.
  2. Not able to video chat: There is always a “legitimate” reason (e.g. poor Wi-Fi) why the individual is not able to video chat with you or meet your loved ones on camera.  
  3. They share your interests and say all the right things: They quickly pick information from your profile and/or social media and use it to build a friendship or romantic relationship. Watch for romantic poetry and verses from the Internet. Sometimes they re-use scripts written to lure you into a relationship.
  4. They move into a relationship quickly: It is common for scammers to shower their victims with affection and love – quickly. They will message and call constantly. This is called love bombing. It is such a serious behaviour that victims sometimes feel like they have been brainwashed. They usually ask the victim to move to a “more secure” and private chat forum.
  5. They ask for money: Romance scammers may start asking for small amounts of money first for what appear to be legitimate reasons: to keep chatting (using calling cards), to fix their car, to buy an elderly relative some food, etc. The amounts then increase. A common way of asking for money involves the scammer asking to visit the victim. Larger sums of money are requested to cover travel and expenses.
  6. Sense of urgency: Scammers will apply pressure on the victim to send money. Emergencies are often used to add urgency; the fraudster may indicate he or she or a loved one requires financial assistance to cover a medical emergency.
  7. Asking you to conduct suspicious activities: Scammers may request their victim conduct unusual activities related to money or sharing personal information. Examples include:
    • Asking victims to pass goods or money across countries. They may even send their victim a large sum of money and request the money returned to them or sent to someone else, convincing victims they’re helping someone they care about, but, in fact, they are laundering stolen funds.
    • Asking for intimate photographs or information that can be used to blackmail victims into sending or laundering money.