Ahead of Valentine’s Day, the RCMP is urging Nova Scotians to be mindful of fraudsters who pull on people’s heart strings to pull off scams.
“Online dating, social media sites, and texting platforms are used by scammers to gain people’s trust and affection for the sole purpose of stealing their money,” says Cst. Mitch Thompson of the Nova Scotia RCMP Commercial Crime Section. “Unfortunately, people looking for companionship are regularly targeted by scammers – and instead of finding love, they end up with broken hearts and empty bank accounts.”
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre reports that in 2023, 773 Canadians lost more than $41,700,000 to romance scammers; 25% of victims were in the 60 to 69 age range. Between 2021 and 2023, Nova Scotians were scammed out of more than $1,480,300, with the majority of victims, 22%, between the ages of 20 and 29.
Fraudsters create false identities and research potential victims online. To increase the likelihood of establishing a successful connection with their target, they develop a tailored strategy for each victim. After developing an online relationship, gaining the victim’s trust, and pretending to have romantic feelings for them, the fraudster fakes a scenario where they need fast money.
“The scammers, who often claim to have a job in a distant location and no access to their existing funds, pretend to have either an emergency or an amazing opportunity,” says. Cst. Thompson. “They then ask their victim for financial assistance.”
The fraudsters request money or cryptocurrency for a variety of reasons; they sometimes say they’re dealing with a medical emergency, travel problems, unexpected legal expenses or the purchase of high-value assets.
“Romance scams can be emotionally and financially traumatizing for those who’ve been innocently lured into them,” says Cst. Thompson. “Reported cases of romance fraud are likely to be much lower than the actual numbers. Many victims never report the crime due to shame and denial.”
To help avoid romance scams:
- Don’t give out personal information (e.g., address, date of birth, banking credentials)
- Don’t respond to friend requests or text messages from people you don’t know
- Be suspicious of people who seem too good to be true, always have an excuse for not being able to meet in person, and are always dealing with crises that require money
- Be suspicious of people you’ve never met in person who profess to love you
- Never send money, cryptocurrency or gift cards to someone you’ve never met face-to-face, and be alert to unique investment opportunities
- Be careful who you share pictures with; scammers can use them for blackmail
Anyone who suspects they’ve been targeted by a scam is encouraged to contact their local police and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501. Should they wish to remain anonymous, they can call Nova Scotia Crime Stoppers, toll-free, at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477), submit a secure web tip at www.crimestoppers.ns.ca, or use the P3 Tips App.