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With Valentine's Day ahead, police warn cold-hearted romance scammers are hard at work

Criminals are targeting romance scam victims after looking at their online profiles and customizing lies to fool them, police say. (Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock - image credit)
Criminals are targeting romance scam victims after looking at their online profiles and customizing lies to fool them, police say. (Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock - image credit)

While people may be polishing their dating app profiles ahead of Valentine's Day, Nova Scotia RCMP are warning them to be careful of falling victim to romance scams.

In a Monday news release, RCMP warn that scammers are creating false identities and researching their potential victims online.

"After developing an online relationship, gaining the victim's trust, and pretending to have romantic feelings for them, the fraudster fakes a scenario where they need fast money," said the news release

"This can include a medical emergency, travel problems, unexpected legal expenses or the purchase of high-value assets"

Reports from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre said 773 Canadians lost more than $41 million to romance scams in 2023, with a quarter of the victims between the ages of 60 and 69.

Const. Mitch Thompson of the Nova Scotia RCMP says there's a rise in romance scams in the province.

"These are people that are preying on everyone's desire to have companionship," he said. "And so they can be very effective scams and they can be very hard to recognize when you're in them because no one wants to feel like they're being scammed by the person that they care for."

The news release also said Nova Scotians were scammed out of more than $1.4 million between 2021 and 2023, with 22 per cent of those victims in their twenties.

To protect yourself from this type of scam, Thompson recommends looking out for certain red flags including a relationship moving too fast, the person seems too good to be true, the person is always dealing with crisis, and always has an excuse why they can't meet in person.

'For scammers, this is like a business'

Typically this scam will be done through a dating app, but it may also be through popular social media sites like Facebook and Instagram.

"For the scammers, this is like a business," said Thompson.

"They're trying to go somewhere where there's going to be a lot of opportunity to run the scam and people that are going to be willing to fall for the scam. So we tend to see a lot of these things starting through online dating because people there are already looking for relationships, so that initial barrier to getting to contact with a potential victim is gone."

Andrea Speranza of Halifax fell victim to one of these scams in 2018.

Andrea Speranza visits Shubie Park in Dartmouth, N.S. on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. Speranza says she was the victim of an elaborate scheme by a con man. He essentially seduced her, won her trust through romantic gestures, and then conned her out of thousands of dollars. She has since found several victims of the same man across the country. Some have lost their homes and life savings to the same man. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Andrea Speranza visits Shubie Park in Dartmouth, N.S. Speranza says she was the victim of an elaborate scheme by a con man. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

"These people pick people who are in life's transitions ... in hard times, illness, loss, and he forms a trauma bond with them," says Speranza

"They're fantastic actors and manipulators, you really can't see it coming."

She warns that these scammers don't only prey on victims online, but also outside of the digital realm.

"It's not like I met him online or anything else, I met him in real life in Shubie Park," said Speranza

"When you date someone, don't give everybody the benefit of the doubt and don't tell everything about yourself," said Speranza. "It opens yourself up to become a victim.

"Report it, because if you don't you're empowering them, and then there will be a record."

The release says that if you believe you've been victim to one of these scams be sure to report it to the local police as well as the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

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