February may be the month of cupids and hearts but there’s no romance in becoming a victim of fraud. With the increased use of social media websites, social networking sites and dating sites, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) has reported a rise in a type of scam that relies on building a trusting relationship with another individual over the Internet.
How does the scam work?
According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the victim and the criminal will often meet virtually through a social networking or dating site. The criminal will then proceed to build a relationship with his or her intended victim, sometimes spending several months in building a rapport online with the intention of making the victim feel they are in a romantic relationship.
The criminal will typically say that they are in a far away country and that they eventually want to meet the victim in person. Around this time, the criminal will note that they can’t afford to travel and will seek assistance from the victim in covering travel costs. A variation on this theme includes the criminal noting that there’s an emergency, a sick family member for example, and that they need financial help from the victim to visit the sick individual. Of course, the requests for help are all a scam and the money wired by the victim, often in very large amounts, is now in the hands of the criminal.
According to the RCMP, in 2010 there were over 900 romance scam complaints received, accounting for more than $6.8 million in reported losses. The average loss per victim was $11,000 and there has been a 1500 per cent increase of romance scam complaints reported since 2008.
Tips to avoid becoming a victim
According to romancescams.org, a non-profit information and advocacy organization which aims to create public awareness and provide information to help end online romance scams, there are some warning signs that your new relationship may be a scam if more than a few of these statements are true:
You’ve been on a dating or social network site in the past six months.
Someone has claimed to have fallen in love with you quickly.
That person wants to immediately leave the dating site to use instant messaging or email.
They claim to be from the U.S. or Canada but they are working overseas.
They’ve asked you for money or to cash a cheque.
They are coming to visit you soon but an event prevents them from visiting.
They have no close family or friends to turn to when they need help.
If you think you may be a victim
If you think you may be a victim of a romance scam or any other kind of fraud, it’s important that you contact police immediately. Bank staff are aware of these kinds of scams and are trained to pay attention if a customer makes an unusual transaction -- for example, withdrawing more money than usual. However, as the owner of the account, you are ultimately responsible for any funds that you withdraw from your bank account. That’s why it’s especially important to ask questions and be 100 per cent positive about who you’re sending money to and why.
Here are a few links to media reports about romance scams and stories from victims. Be vigilant and protect yourself:
For more fraud prevention tips from the Canadian Bankers Association or to sign up to receive new tips by e-mail please visit the Fraud and Security section of the Canadian Bankers Association website.