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A Valentine's Day warning from your friendly neighbourhood Toronto police

Watch out for online "romance scams"

Geo-dating apps have been available on iPhone and Android for years, but are only now starting to take off. (Photo: Erin Leydon)

(Photo: Erin Leydon)

While Valentine’s Day can be an opportunity to shower your significant other with all kinds of presents, Toronto police are taking this day of romance as a chance to issue a warning about who you’re choosing to spend your money on.

In a press release, the Financial Crimes Unit of the Toronto Police Service has cautioned residents about the increased prevalence of “romance scams,” which often involve the use of online dating sites by criminals to coax unsuspecting individuals into giving them money.

A romance scam usually begins with the perpetrator offering details of their personal life very early on in an online relationship, in an attempt to encourage the victim to feel a connection and sense of ease. The fraudster will then “profess love for the victim in an unusually short period of time (e.g. days or weeks),” and will then often use what’s called a “difficult spot” scam. They’ll spin a tale of hardship (with a financial element) that evokes sympathy from the victim, and under the “illusion of being in love” the victim will attempt to help with their own money. Some fraudsters even insist on meeting their online love in person, to give the appearance of legitimacy.

Police say to be on the lookout for online daters who are quicker than usual to give up personal information or declare their undying love for you. Also beware of anyone casually mentioning the topic of credit cards—they might be trying to get a sense of how good your credit is. Fraudsters will also look to isolate their victims from friends and family, to silence those rational voices that might talk you out of giving away your money.

“Romance scams cause both emotional and financial trauma to victims,” police said in the release. “Often, the financial loss is easily dealt with but the emotional trauma is lasting.”

Put simply, try not to get Catfished into giving your money away to strangers on the Internet.