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Romance scammers do their research, and so should you when you date online

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Blaire Wortley met a man on dating app Hinge in September 2021. He was smart, successful and said all the right things.

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“[He was] very charismatic, very outgoing and to the point, seemed to know what he was looking for … Having someone who seemed very engaged and asking the questions and keeping my attention was very appealing,” said Wortley, who lives in Calgary, Alta.

She became suspicious after the man failed to e-transfer her money for a dinner date that he insisted he would pay for. After some social media stalking, her friend came across a photo of his ID on Facebook — with a comment underneath from a woman who claimed to have been scammed by him.

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Worley says she soon discovered that he was targeting single white women in their 30s, and had convinced them to send him money for things like tech deals or lavish vacations.

While Wortley only lost $90 from her dinner date, she says other women allege they got scammed by the man for $2,000 to $3,000 on average.

Wortley’s Hinge date is just one out of many alleged swindlers who have been recently reported to authorities. After investment fraud, romance scams cost Canadians the most money in 2021, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC).

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The centre received 1,928 reports of romance scams, which totalled more than $64.6 million in losses in 2021 — although Sue Labine, a call centre supervisor at the CAFC, says this number is an underestimate. Data shows less than five per cent of victims report fraud.

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As Canadians emerge from pandemic isolation and seek out emotional connection online, dating app users need to stay vigilant and do their research after they swipe right to avoid breaking the bank — and their hearts.

How do romance scammers swindle their victims?

“They imitate the person’s life, how they live, to match their own profile. For example, if the person they’re targeting is a golfer, well, then they’re great at golfing,” Labine says.

Scammers may use psychological tactics to gain a victim’s trust, like professing their love immediately or sending them gifts, and often work in a group with other scammers to help each other exploit their victims’ weaknesses.

Wortley, who works in the wireless industry, says the man she spoke to likely found her profile on LinkedIn and other social media platforms. “He’s like, I used to work for Google, I actually know your company. And then he name-dropped someone from my company … He had also mentioned that his family owned a ranch and he owns two horses. Well, my family owns a ranch. We have horses.”

He postponed their first date because he said he got into a car accident. Wortley was initially skeptical until he sent her a photo of him in a neck brace at the hospital — a photo that other victims received as well, she says.

When they rescheduled for dinner, she said he pretended to e-transfer her at the table after telling her he forgot his wallet at work. She later told him that she never received the money, and he told her his accounts were frozen and sent her screenshots of his live chat with the bank.

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Labine says scammers come up with various reasons for victims to send them money, such as for a cryptocurrency investment scheme, a hospital bill or short-term loan. Sometimes they may ask you for money within a few days, while others will build a relationship for months and years beforehand.

“As long as the victim is continuously showing that they’re suspicious, then it’ll take longer for the scammer before they start asking for money,” she says.

Wortley believes victims may feel embarrassed or ashamed to report when they have been scammed. “You think, what’s going to be done? You’re like, how am I gonna get $3,000 back? … What’s even the point?”

Wortley created a public Facebook group to report the man she met, give others a space to share their stories and spread awareness about romance fraudsters in general. When she connected with other victims, she also discovered that he operated by stealing from one woman to pay back another.

Calgary police announced in February that the man she reported has been charged with two counts of fraud over $5,000 and possession of proceeds of crime over $5,000, with other charges pending.

What should you do when you’ve been scammed?

If you are a victim of fraud, contact your local police and either call the CAFC or report on their website. And flag the scammer’s profile to the dating app company, which may be able to ban or remove the user from the app.

When it comes to getting your money back, Labine says this depends on your bank and what policies it has regarding fraud, although the likelihood that you’ll be reimbursed is quite small.

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“If you report it right away, and the fraudster didn’t withdraw the funds from the account right away, then there’s a possibility that [the bank] could stop that transaction.”

What are some red flags to look out for?

“Love bombing is number one … nobody fully knows you to love you that much that quickly,” says Wortley, who mentioned that her scammer told her he really liked her before she even met him.

“Another red flag is — I like to call them Mr. Me Toos.” Scammers want you to like and trust them, so they’ll go along with your preferences and interests. Do your research when you meet someone online and check out their profiles on social media as well.

Also look out for people who talk about their money or finances too soon, Wortley adds. The man she met on Hinge constantly bragged about his supposed wealth.

When it comes to your own behaviour on dating apps, you should never give out any financial or personal information to somebody you’ve never met, notes Labine. Don’t send intimate photos or videos of yourself, and do a reverse image search of photos that they send you, just in case they’ve been posted elsewhere.

Wortley says many women have reached out to her to ask how they can get their scammers charged and investigated. If you think you’re a victim of a romance scam, she says, trust your instincts and don’t give up.

“Don’t let someone make you feel crazy. If someone’s gaslighting you for something that they’re absolutely doing [and says] I’m sorry I made you feel that way? No, you didn’t make me feel any way. You did this. So, stick to your guns. You know what’s right.”

This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.

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