Around Valentine’s Day, love is in the air, and so unfortunately, are romance scams. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre reported that romance scams skyrocketed during the massive shift online caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially among older adults. Romance scams are now one of Canada’s most common frauds.
As advisors, it is important that we educate our clients and families on the rising incidence of romance scams and actively discuss how people fall victim. And with an increased online presence, older adults must understand how to stay secure in the cyber world.
This article will help you understand why older adults are susceptible and how romance scammers work, and share some tips to help others stay safe.
Who is targeted by romance scams, and what are the losses?
A study by the TSB Bank in Scotland reported that Individuals between the ages of 51 and 65 are the most susceptible to romance scams. Compared to the other age cohorts, the group aged 51-65 is three times more likely to fall victim, and their losses account for 46% of all monies lost to romance scams. 
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre reported more than $60 million in losses due to these scams in 2023. Unfortunately, the Centre says, only 10 to 15 % of frauds are reported. There are many more victims and much more money lost than we know.
Why are older people more susceptible?
Romance scammers leverage a perfect storm of factors for older people.
- Isolation during the COVID pandemic
- The massive shift online during and since COVID
- The rapidly growing aging demographic
- The social epidemic of isolation and loneliness
In our practice, we have found those most susceptible to romance scams have certain factors in common.
- They are lonely.
- They may be grieving a partner.
- They may have diminished capacity, loss of executive function, or a combination of other factors.
How do romance scammers work?
The scammer may target someone by directly calling, emailing, or messaging them. In other cases, the victim has actively sought out a dating site or online information or answered a social media ad, and the scammer has responded. The schemes often involve convincing victims to enter a virtual, online relationship to build trust and affection. The scammer also grooms the victim to keep the relationship secret from their family and friends. Once the scammer establishes emotional leverage, they request money, cryptocurrency, gifts, or investments from their victim.
Tips for Preventing Romance Scams
Developing awareness and educating people about romance scams is needed. Educating about safety online is as necessary for older people as it is for younger people.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre shares a list of red flags and suspicions:
- When someone you haven’t met in person professes their love to you
- If the person wants to quickly move to a private or different mode of communication (email, text, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, etc.)
- If they always have an excuse not to meet in person
- If you receive poorly/oddly written messages, sometimes even addressing you by the wrong name
- If the individual claims to live close to you but is working overseas
- If they act distressed or angry to guilt you into sending money
- If the individual discourages you from discussing them or their situation with your friends and family, they are attempting to isolate you from those who may be suspicious of the relationship.
What to Do When a Romance Scam Occurs
Follow the advice from the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
- Collect your thoughts
- Contact your financial institutions
- Contact the police
- Report the incident
- Protect yourself from future fraud
As advisors, we have an important role to play in preventing senior fraud. Romance scams are on the rise, so we must educate ourselves and actively engage our older clients on what they are and how to prevent their victimization and financial loss.