Would someone you have never met really declare their love for you after only a few letters or emails? Learn how to identify and guard against romance and relationship scams.
Scam 1. Romance scams
“I was in an ‘internet-only’ romantic relationship with a man for two years. Like me, he had lost his spouse. We messaged each other every day. When his daughter became very ill, he said he needed money to pay her medical bills. I sent him $20,000. A month later, he stopped answering my messages. I contacted the police, but they couldn’t find him. He had vanished.”
– Rita, Vancouver
In a typical romance scam, someone assumes a fake identity to lure you into an emotional or romantic relationship with them, so they can trick you out of your money. This is also called catphishing.
It might start on a dating website. They share phony details of their lives and intentions. They send alluring (and usually fake) photos of themselves. They might send you flowers or other small gifts. Once they’ve gained your trust, they tell you they have a sick family member or are in a deep depression. They ask you to send them money to help their situation. And then they disappear.
Or they tell you about a large amount of money they need to transfer out of their country, or that they want to share with you. They ask for your bank account details so they can send you the money. They ask you to pay “an administrative fee” or “taxes” that need to be paid up front to free up the money. They say you need to pay these amounts before the large sum of money can be transferred.
Or they ask for help cashing a cheque. They send you the cheque. They ask that you send back cash using a wire transfer service. You cash their cheque, not realizing it’s counterfeit until after you’ve wired the money.
Someone who lies to try to get you to part with your money commits fraud, which is a criminal offence.
Do not send money by wire transfer service to someone you’ve never met. If someone you have been in contact with says they can’t meet in person, walk away.
Scam 2. Relative scams
There are scams that target grandparents and other older relatives. In what’s often called a relative scam or an emergency scam, a grandparent receives a phone call from a scammer claiming to be one of his or her grandchildren. The caller says they are in some kind of trouble and need money. They may say they’re in hospital, stuck in another country, or have gotten into trouble with the law. They ask for money to be sent immediately through a wire transfer service.
In some cases, they pretend to be an old neighbour or a friend of the family.
Their aim is to pressure you to send them money as soon as possible without checking the story. To do this, they often act very emotional on the call, or ask you not to tell anyone in the family about the call (claiming that other family members will blame them for the accident or emergency).
If you get a call like this, ask the caller questions that only your loved one would be able to answer. Alternatively, hang up and call your relative directly or another family member, to find out if there is a real emergency.
1. Know who you’re dealing with
Do your research before engaging with someone online. Check their name and their background by searching on the internet and social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.
2. Be alert for suspicious behaviour
Be wary of a romantic interest who avoids talking on the phone, is constantly making excuses about why they can’t meet in person, or tries to isolate you from family and friends. If they ask for a small gift, this is a major warning sign; this may be a test to see if you are a good target.
3. Protect your personal information
Don’t give out any personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call. Don't give out any personal information in an email or when you are chatting online.
4. Protect your money
Never send money, or give credit card or bank account details to anyone you do not know and trust.
Never wire money unless you’re absolutely certain that you’re sending it to someone you know and trust. Wiring money is like sending someone cash—once it’s sent, it’s gone.