Brokenhearted with an Empty Wallet—Warning Signs of Online Relationship Scams

As a Licensed Insolvency Trustee, I hear a variety of facts, circumstances and events that have led to one’s financial distress. Being victimized through an online relationship scam can leave someone both emotionally and financially devastated.

According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, online relationship scams are the highest grossing scam compared to other internet frauds. As is usually the case, the online dating starts out innocently on a legitimate dating website, but evolves with intention by the perpetrator to ultimately steal money from the innocent party. It’s tough to pinpoint the exact number of people in Canada who have been victimized by an online dating scam, because a person is usually too embarrassed or ashamed to admit that they were taken advantage of.

The most heartbreaking story I’ve heard was from a lady who was involved in a nearly one year online relationship which was ultimately discovered to be fraudulent.  Throughout the “relationship”, she lost in excess of $100,000—her entire life savings—from a series of wire transfers to the perpetrator.  She didn’t see the warning signs at the time. Why? She believed him.  She was in a time in her post-divorce life where she was desperately seeking companionship and he preyed upon that.

With love being top of mind during the month of February, those involved in online relationships should take time to evaluate whether their relationship is causing them financial distress.

Look for the non-financial warning signs by asking yourself:

  1. Is he/she “too good to be true”? Have your guard up if they appear perfect or are giving you all the right answers all the time.
  1. Is he/she transitioning the contact from the dating site to personal email, text or phone? If so, they may be moving into their next phase—gaining trust and more personal information from you outside of the restrictions of a bona fide dating website.
  1. Is he/she making excuses for not being able to meet in person (i.e., problems with their travel visa or lost passport)? Keep their reasons for not being able to meet in your back pocket and determine if there is a pattern.

Look for the financial warning signs by asking yourself:

  1. Am I being asked about my financial background in the early stages of the relationship? If they want to know how much you earn, the car you drive, whether you invest, or the kinds of credit cards you have, you’re being sized up. This is the start of their attempt to gain access to your assets, money and credit.
  1. Am I considering sending money to this person and why? Scammers often use the excuse of an “emergency” or “crises”, like a sick family member. The dollar amounts usually start out small, but progressively get higher and with more frequency.
  1. Am I using credit more frequently to cover living expenses or taking out bank loans? Finding yourself with more money issues since you’ve started the online “relationship” should be a clear warning sign.

Taking these simple steps can prevent you from falling victim to an online dating scam:

  • Tell a family member or close friend about your new relationship.  Victims have told me in hindsight that had they told a friend about the first wire transfer of money, matters wouldn’t have escalated.  If you’re blinded by love, let your friend or family member be that voice of reason.
  • Don’t release financial information about yourself and never send money to someone you’ve met online.  Be clear from the start that there will be no discussions about your finances, and if a request for money is made stop communications immediately.  If these conditions are a problem for the other person, then you’ll know where their intentions lie.

If you are concerned that you are being financially targeted in an online relationship, you should contact your bank immediately to stop payment on any cheques or money transfers you’ve recently issued.  Unfortunately, any money you’ve given the perpetrator up until that point is money you’re never going to see back.  Next, report the matter to the RCMP.  You’ll likely be directed to file a report with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

If you are now facing overwhelming debt because of a fraudulent online relationship, it’s important to speak to a Licensed Insolvency Trustee.  The emotional toll of not only losing the relationship, but your savings as well, can make it extremely difficult to focus on resolving your situation. A Licensed Insolvency Trustee can help sort out the situation and help you come up with a viable solution to your financial troubles. Practical solutions such as budget adjustments, debt consolidation and a consumer proposal are all options to consider before bankruptcy.

We can’t mend your broken heart, but we can help mend the hole in your wallet.

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