How to avoid romance scams?​

Why do we fall prey to romance scams?


By Terry Cutler

Online romance scams cost Canadians more than $18.5 million in 2020. 


According to a 2021 Canadian Anti Fraud Centre report, romance scams, where money is transferred from one person to the other was the number one fraud affecting Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it isn’t likely to decrease. 


A romance scam is where a cybercriminal contacts a victim through a dating site, typically grieving widows or a divorced woman, eager to return to the dating scene, but anyone vulnerable can be a target. 

The cybercriminal convinces his victim they have fallen in love and then banks on that love, asking for money to help in fictitious dire emergencies. 


Social distancing measures have caused many Canadians to feel isolated. They may be more trusting and vulnerable, willing to talk to anyone out there, thus wide open to romance scams.


It makes sense says a 2021 RBC poll. Canadians are spending more time online, and so are savvy cybercriminals who are leveraging the social consequences of the pandemic to gain access to personal and financial data. 


Why do we fall prey to romance scams? People fall for scams because of the psychological techniques employed by cybercriminals, such as


Romantic beliefs - Romance Scams

People with idealized romantic beliefs focus on the positives and forget the negatives of their new romance, something cyber criminals bank on. They may believe in romantic destiny, in fairy tale hopes, and perceive compliments as being genuine. 


Loneliness leading to Romance Scams

Many people prefer expressing themselves online rather than in the real world. Dating sites are aware of the anonymity of online communications and offer great user experiences. So are cybercriminals. Dating profiles offer vital information about individuals who are looking for partners.



Love is a drug, and people may be ready to take financial and social risks in the name of love. As in real life, a sensation-seeker online may engage in risky activities and fall in love with attractive and daring partners. 


The principle of similarity

We like people who like the things we like. Scammers will seek something in their victims to appear like them by employing the principle of similarity.

For example, we were born in the same month. We love to read science-fiction. We both play the guitar. I’m lonely, too. Scammers understand we are much more likely to agree to a chat request from someone we like and have a base of familiarity.  


We don’t want to let people down

Once someone says they will do something for someone, the person will not want to disappoint. We view failure to do so as a failure of one’s self-esteem. 

The scrupulous scammer knows this and will begin by asking for little favours—let’s meet online at noon tomorrow—and then raise the commitment bar to—send me a picture? I have to see you in a photo—to higher ground requests—please don’t disappoint me! I really need to know you’ll be there for me.

Soon, requests for money become normal.


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