They say love is blind. But on Valentine's Day, the RCMP is urging romantics to open their eyes to online scams that prey on would-be lovers at risk of being swindled out of money.
Scammers create profiles with fake identities on dating websites and social media to gain people's trust, police say. They develop the relationship over time and then fabricate a reason for needing money.
Last year in Canada, 748 people were taken in by so-called romance scams and cheated out of $17 million. On average, that's $23,000 per person.
"But there's victims that have lost a lot more than that," RCMP Sgt. Guy Paul Larocque said in an interview.
"Some victims have lost over $100,000 to that scam, which is very sad. Some of them have lost like all their savings, even sold their homes to be able to liquidate some assets in order to send money to these scammers."
From 'I love you' to IOU
Typically, the scammers meet their victims through an online dating website. From there, the relationship may progress quickly and seem too good to be true.
Larocque said one red flag is when the new online acquaintance professes his or her love very early in the relationship, which is often followed fairly quickly by a request for money.
"Most often it will be to fill in an urgent need or emergency that has just happened either to them or to a family member," Larocque said.
"A good example is they'll pretend that there is a sick family member and they need help to recover the medical costs because they're in a foreign country and the procedure that is required is quite expensive and they can't [front] the money right now because they don't have access to their bank account."
More warning signs
Larocque said the scam artist will often try to avoid meeting their victim. They'll arrange a date, but then make an excuse as to why they can't attend.
In some cases, however, Larocque said the scammer is brazen enough to meet face to face and still make off with money.
Many victims don't report
Larocque said the RCMP's numbers on romance scams might just be the tip of the iceberg because studies show only five per cent of victims go to police.
There are a couple of reasons for that.
"A big one is they feel shame of what happened to them and they don't want to talk about their story," said Larocque. "They take their loss and they try to move on."