The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) is warning those looking for that special someone on Valentine’s Day to be cautious with online dating.
“Profile pictures in some cases are stolen from models or actors from different countries to make them more appealing to the person they are trying to scam,” said Jeff Horncastle, a communications officer with CAFC.
Canadians lost a total of $530 million to fraud in various schemes, scams and investment swindles in 2022, and CAFC said the number two most reported scam in Canada is the romance scam with 1,056 Canadian victims losing $59 million in 2022.
CAFC estimates only five to ten per cent of romance scams are reported due to embarrassment by victims so the amount of fraud is expected to be far greater.
Scammers are using dating, gaming and social media websites to try and make connections with people and once they do, they try to strike up relationships and ultimately get your money.
“Sometimes the demand for money will come after months (of texting, emailing or talking) when they know they have made an emotional connection with the victims,” said Horncastle.
A woman contacted CTV News Toronto concerned that her father had been scammed out of $10,000 in an online relationship.
The daughter found the photos being sent to her father had actually been stolen from an Instagram account and the woman who owned the photos had no idea her pictures were being used.
The daughter convinced her father to stop sending the scammers money, but they became concerned when criminals demanded more money and threatened violence if they didn’t get it.
The woman and her father asked not to be identified out of fear for their safety, but provided CTV News with text messages that said “don’t inform police or anybody” and “send me $10,000 dollars for my boys” and if they didn’t one message said, ”I’ve been paid $50,000 to kill you in advance.”
Toronto’s Police Services Financial Crimes Unit said scammers will use threats and intimidation to scare victims into continuously paying, but Detective Sergeant Anthony Coscarella said anyone who has been threatened should contact authorities.
“If anyone is experiencing threats or intimidation they should immediately call police,” said Coscarella.
Signs of a romance scam include someone declaring their love for you quickly, making excuses not to meet in person and if the victim is told not to discuss the relationship with others.
Eventually the scammer will ask the victim for gifts or money in cash, Bitcoin or a wire transfer to pay for travel or an emergency.
“We’ve seen victims come from all sectors, all backgrounds, all financial means. We have victims who are elderly and who are young people,” said Coscarella.
You can avoid becoming a victim by not sharing your personal or banking information and never sending photos of yourself to someone you don’t know as they could be used to extort money from you in the future.
Authorities said that scammers are now also working with artificial intelligence using text generators, voice simulators and deep fakes meaning moving forward it will be even harder to know online what’s real – and what isn’t.