Romance and Relationship Scams

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This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by People's Law School in March 2017.

Would someone you have never met really declare their love for you after only a few letters or emails?

Romance scams[edit]

In a typical romance scam, someone assumes a fake identity to lure you into an emotional or romantic relationship with them, so they can trick you out of your money. This is also called catphishing.

It might start on a dating website. They share phony details of their lives and intentions. They send alluring (and usually fake) photos of themselves. They might send you flowers or other small gifts. Once they’ve gained your trust, they tell you they have a sick family member or are in a deep depression. They ask you to send them money to help their situation. And then they disappear.

Someone who lies to try to get you to part with your money commits fraud, which is a criminal offence.

Relative scams[edit]

There are scams that target grandparents and other older relatives. In what’s often called a relative scam or an emergency scam, a grandparent receives a phone call from a scammer claiming to be one of his or her grandchildren. The caller says they are in some kind of trouble and need money. They may say they’re in hospital, stuck in another country, or have gotten into trouble with the law. They ask for money to be sent immediately through a wire transfer service.

Their aim is to pressure you to send them money as soon as possible without checking the story. To do this, they often act very emotional on the call, or ask you not to tell anyone in the family about the call.

If you get a call like this, ask the caller questions that only your loved one would be able to answer. Alternatively, hang up and call your relative directly or another family member, to find out if there is a real emergency.   

Preventing problems[edit]

Here are ways to reduce the risk of being the victim of a relationship scam.

Know who you’re dealing with[edit]

Do your research before engaging with someone online. Check their name and their background by searching on the internet and social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.

Be alert for suspicious behaviour[edit]

Be wary of a romantic interest who avoids talking on the phone, is constantly making excuses about why they can’t meet in person, or tries to isolate you from family and friends.

Protect your personal information[edit]

Don't give out any personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call. Don't give out any personal information in an email or when you are chatting online.

Protect your money[edit]

Never wire money unless you're absolutely certain that you're sending it to someone you know and trust. Wiring money is like sending someone cash - once it's sent, it's gone.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International LicenceScams to Avoid © People's Law School is, except for the images, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.