Romance scam

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Video transcript: Romance scam (Word, 31KB)

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How the scam works

Romance or dating scams can be devastating – financially and emotionally. People who have been scammed have lost their life savings to someone they loved and trusted, and found themselves in serious financial debt.

After approaching you on legitimate dating websites, the scammer quickly moves the relationship to personal email, phone calls or instant messaging.

The scammer builds an online relationship with you, often over weeks, months or years. They may go to great lengths to gain your trust and affection, often speaking to you on the phone, and sending flowers or gifts.

Once the relationship is established, the scammer will make up a story about needing money, often to do with illness or injury with a family member, or to pay for a business investment. Another story is that they are having trouble cashing a cheque where they are. They will ask you for the money as a 'loan' and send that cheque to you as payment. The cheque is always fake. 

If you send them money via money order, wire transfer or international funds transfer, it is usually impossible to recover it.

Even when friends or family point out this scam, some people will continue trusting the scammer they have fallen in love with.

Scammers have also posed as investigators, offering to track down the original scammer. Hoping for justice, the person is, instead, scammed again.

Protect yourself

These warning signs can help you avoid fraud when looking for love online.

  • Be wary of people who ask you for money. Do not send money to someone you have never met in person, even if you have spoken to them or received gifts.
  • Do not give anyone your bank account details – for any reason.
  • Be alert when communicating outside of the dating sites' internal messaging system such as by text or email. It is common practice of scammers to move the conversation 'off-line', to a more private channel.
  • Look out for strange word choices and elaborate sentences. Scammers rarely answer your questions directly and often paste entire paragraphs from other websites.
  • Be alert for over-the-top expressions of love and attempts to progress the relationship very quickly. Scammers tend to profess their true love for you within a matter of days or weeks, and a proposal of marriage may quickly follow.
  • Listen to warnings from your friends and family.
  • Be wary if online dating profile pictures do not match someone's description of themselves, or look like they were taken from a magazine. Many scammers use photos of other people or select a photo from Google images. You can find out if the photo is genuine by conducting a Google reverse image search.
  • Scammers will rarely meet you in person, but will always have a seemingly practical or reasonable excuse why they cannot do so.

For information on how to report a scam, view our If you are scammed page.