Valentine’s Day might be behind us, but on online dating sites, the emphasis is on love all year round. These sites are where increasing numbers of people go to find that “someone special”; but even on legitimate dating sites, scammers are waiting to break your heart by taking your money.
In 2016, Canadians reported losing more than $16 million to online dating scams, slightly up from 2015. But this figure is only a small part of what was actually lost, as most people—particularly those who have been scammed via online dating—are too embarrassed to report the loss.
“They’re already feeling lonely and vulnerable,” says Evan Kelly, senior communications advisor for the Better Business Bureau serving Mainland BC. Then, after they get scammed, “They feel foolish.”
It is estimated that 20 to 30 per cent of all profiles on online dating sites are fake. Kelly says to watch out for really well-written profiles that do not offer a lot of detail; poor grammar and spelling; and odd responses to any questions you ask.
He also says that people can do a reverse-image search on Google, to look up pictures used on a profile. “Scammers will lift pictures and information from other sites, so you can search to see if the picture turns up somewhere else.”
Kelly says that scammers will typically start a conversation with you via the dating site, then suggest going off-site, to email or texting, making up some reason they do not want to use the site: “They’ll claim to be using a relative’s account, so they can’t access it and need to use regular email.” He advises people not to get pulled off the dating site until they have met the other person face-to-face and started developing a relationship.
Next come requests for money. “One we hear a lot is that people have been in an accident and need money for hospital bills that their work won’t cover. Occasionally people will be asked to send money so that the other person can travel to meet them.“
A recent story involved a Nanaimo senior who lost more than $100,000 to someone she thought was coming to Canada to meet her. “Seniors can be very susceptible to this scam, as they may be lonely and less familiar with these new online dating platforms and related scams,” says Kelly.
Other warning signs to look out for include a relationship that moves too fast; excuses as to why you can never meet you in person; very little specific information on the other person’s profile; and any request for money.
“They’ll keep feeding you lines about how much they love you, and will be coming to see you, or telling you sob stories,” says Kelly. “It’s really despicable that people would do this. We want to believe the best about people, but someone in Uganda doesn’t care. They just want your money.”