We've all heard the cautionary tales about online dating.
But scammers also use real-life romantic relationships for nefarious ends, according to Larry Crandall, a licensed insolvency trustee with Grant Thornton in Saint John.
He offers these six tips to help you avoid being taken in.
1. It can happen to you
According to 2016 figures released by the RCMP, some 748 victims in Canada lost a total of about $17 million to online romance scams," Crandall said — about $23,000 per person.
"The same principles can apply in real life," Crandall said.
Although people tend to worry more about getting ripped off by Tinder or Plenty of Fish dates, real-life romance scams are "very prevalent," Crandall said.
2. Go slow
The biggest red flag, Crandall said, is when someone you've just started seeing accelerates the pace to a degree that feels wrong.
"If you're with someone and the relationship is progressing a little bit faster than it normally would, you always have to be skeptical," Crandall said.
And while it may seem like common sense to "never, ever send money to someone that you just met," Crandall said, "for some people, when they've got those rose-coloured glasses, it's easy to forget that."
Ditto: don't give out your personal or financial information — especially if your new "friend" requests it early on.
3. Look in the mirror
Your own behaviour, rather than your date's, can offer one of the biggest red flags that your relationship isn't trustworthy.
"If you're keeping a relationship secret from your family and friends, you want to ask yourself why that is," Crandall said.
Keeping your lover's identity, or their requests to you, a secret, indicates something could be happening that might not be above-board.
4. Long-term doesn't equal risk-free
Most people are already on their guard when they meet someone new, but even long-term, live-in partnerships can be exploited.
"Unfortunately, we regularly see people in long-term relationships that have been scammed," Crandall said, most commonly by use of their credit-card information.
"Sometimes a boyfriend, girlfriend, ex-husband or ex-wife have gotten credit in your name, or have been using your credit without your knowledge or consent," he said. In addition, "if I have someone's credit card, I can use it to purchase things online without [the cardholder' even knowing.
"All of the information I need is right on the card."
The bottom line: if you're feeling funny about your partner, it's a good idea to "monitor both your credit use, and your credit reports," Crandall said.
5. Sleuth it out
The damage from a romantic scam — either to your ego or your bank account — isn't easy to fix.
"We see a lot of people being held responsible for [debts incurred by scammers]," Crandall said.
In real-life dating, as with dating online, a little bit of internet sleuthing can go a long way, according to Crandall.
"It's really important to take the time to do some research: search social media and the internet to confirm that they're genuine," he said.
6. Don't be embarrassed
One of the problems with prosecuting romance scams, Crandall said, is that "the people taken advantage of are too embarrassed to even talk about it. So the real numbers are probably much higher than we even know."
But it's still important to report criminal activity, even if it's embarrassing.
"You can refer the matter to the Saint John police or the RCMP when you have a real-life, non-online situation," Crandall said, adding that real-life scams are easier to prosecute, since those scammed online might not even know the person's location or real name.
"You should reach out and talk to the police and the credit-card company, if they've been using your credit card," he said.
"A lot of people end up paying off a debt that isn't theirs, or they end up having to file for bankruptcy. So it's all the more important to be proactive."