Victims of online romance scams have collectively lost a staggering $22 million in B.C.’s Lower Mainland since the start of the year, according to police.
More than $1.3 million was taken from 29 victims in Surrey alone from January through August, according to the RCMP, with many of those cases following a familiar pattern.
“Victims were befriended online and over time convinced to invest funds into fraudulent schemes, which included sending money via bitcoin accounts,” Surrey RCMP said in a news release. “When the victim becomes aware of the fraud, communication with the victim is cut off.”
Authorities said the crimes typically involve scammers feigning romantic interest in a victim to gain their trust, and often begin on social media or online dating sites.
To avoid being duped, Surrey RCMP said people should be wary of online suitors who seem to be falling in love and pushing the relationship forward rapidly after just a few exchanges.
Attempts to hide their identity should also be seen as a red flag, authorities said.
Police recommended that people use Google’s reverse image search function on an online suitor’s photo to determine if it’s actually their own or if it was stolen from a website.
Authorities also strongly discouraged sending funds to someone they don’t know.
“If your new online partner is already asking you for money to get their car fixed so they can come visit you, it’s a red flag,” Surrey RCMP said.
More information on avoiding online romance scams is available through the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and the Surrey RCMP website.