Color & Control:

Catfishing and romance scams 

Are you looking for love in all the wrong places?

Romance scams have hit an all-time high in Canada. According to the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre, aside from investment scams, they’re the most common. In fact, romance and dating related schemes that were fraudulent (also known as catfishing) have cost people more than $59 million in losses during 2022. That’s more than double the amount—up from $28 million dollars from 2020. 

As family caregivers. It’s important to be aware of ways in which unscrupulous individuals here and abroad might take advantage of our more vulnerable family members or even ourselves. 

How does “love” scam work
Fraudsters research potential victims online, including reviewing their social media posts, to develop a tailored strategy for each victim and improve their chances of success.

Often the victim and the criminal connect over social media or a dating site using a false picture and romance related conversation. The scammer creates an online profile using a fake or stolen identity and then pretends to be some type of professional, military personnel or an entrepreneur. This allows them to claim they are travelling or working abroad when asked to meet in real life.

However, they are very attentive sometimes for a period of weeks or months by phone/text/email and work to develop a relationship with their potential prey. During this time, trust is built, a romantic relationship is established. After developing an online relationship and gaining the victim’s trust, the fraudster usually fakes a scenario where they need quick money—sucas a crisis or an investment opportunity.

It’s just fraud
Catfishing can play out in various ways but it always involves a deceitful end game that has the victim transferring money or assets to the scammer. Examples include the “lover” concocting a believable plan to finally travel to meet their victim. However, they will need financial help to pay for tickets. (Excuses included: their money is tied up in the other country, they are waiting for a transfer or payment from someone else, the bank has frozen their funds etc ). Of course, once the money, often a large amount, is sent, the scammer disappears. 

Another version unfolds the criminal showing up for a first date requesting more or larger amounts of money, cryptocurrency, gifts, or investments. For sick family members back home, property renovations to fix the home before he and the victim get married etc. Once the money is forwarded… as you guessed, the “sincere lover” is never seen again.

Hearts and money
Another version has the scammer sending money to the victim to build further trust or engaging the victim as a money mule or courier in an illegal transaction. According to the RCMP who have seen this happen a lot…by the time the victim becomes suspicious or aware of the scam, they’ve often handed over thousands of dollars, at which point the fraudster stops communicating with them.

We found a list of common lies and stories that the RCMP have put together that includes telling innocent dates that they are doctors with an international aid organization, working on an oil rig or peace keeper or a member of the Canadian military. Scammers often ask their victims for money to pay for:
• Plane tickets or other travel expenses
• Surgery or other medical expenses for them or family 
• Customs fees to retrieve an item of value
• Gambling debts 
• Visas or other official travel documents

Experts suggest that reported instances of romance fraud are much lower that the actual number of real cases as many victims don’t report the crimes. After all who wants to tell loved ones that they were deceived or be subject to ridicule or anger. Some people are also in denial and waiting for their “person” to return. In addition to financial ruin or devastating hardship, victims can be afraid, feel deep shame and embarrassment, and even be traumatized.  

Help needed?
The RCMP website suggests that. “If you suspect you’re being victimized by a romancer scammer, here are some ways to protect yourself:

1) Conduct an online search. Try to learn the person’s identity or see if their photo has been copied from the internet.

2) Beware of people who claim to have fallen in love fast and try to push the relationship forward quickly.

3) If you’re being asked for money, this is a red flag. Don’t send anything.

4) Stop all communication with the person.

5) Call your local police.

6) Contact your bank and place a stop payment on any cheques or money transfers.

7) File a report with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501 or online through its Fraud Reporting System.

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