Romance and relationship scams

What are my rights?

Is it illegal if someone contacts me on a dating website using a fake identity?
  • Yes
  • Maybe
  • No

Would someone you’ve 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.

Spot the scam

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, BC

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. A loan from you right now would help them out enormously, they say. You send it. 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 tell you “an administrative fee” or “taxes” need to be paid up front to free up the money. 

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 separate you from your money is committing fraud, which is a criminal offence.

Don't wire money to someone you've never met

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 their 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 been falsely arrested. They ask for money to be sent immediately through a wire transfer service. 

In some cases, they pretend to be a former neighbour or a friend of the family.

Their aim is to pressure their victim to send money as soon as possible without checking the story. To do this, they often act very emotionally on the call, or ask that no one in the family be told 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 only your loved one would be able to answer. Or simply hang up and call your relative or another family member directly to find out if there’s a real emergency.   

Prevent problems

Step 1. Know who you’re dealing with

Do your research before engaging with someone online. Check their name and background by searching on the internet and social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.

Step 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. It may be a test to see if you’re a good prospect. 

Step 3. Protect your personal information

Don’t give out any personal information over the phone unless you made the call. Don't disclose any personal information in an email or when ‘re chatting online.

Step 4. Protect your money

Never send money, or give credit card or bank account details, to anyone you don’t 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.

Who can help

If you get scammed

Step-by-step guidance

If you think you’ve been the victim of a scam, see our guidance on if you’ve been scammed. We walk you through the steps to take.

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in July 2019
  • Time to read: 4 minutes

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