Case Studies

Romance scams beware

by Mark Rowe

Beware of romance scams says the trade body UK Finance ahead of Valentine’s Day. UK Finance reports a 20 per cent increase in bank transfer romance fraud between January and November 2020 compared to the previous year, with the total value of these scams rising by 12 per cent to £18.5m. The average loss per victim reported to UK Finance members; £7,850.

Criminals can trick victims into sending them money not just via a bank transfer. The official police reporting centre Action Fraud has also seen a rise in reports made by members of the public who have fallen victim to romance fraud in 2020, with total reported losses equating to over £68 million. In these reports, victims have lost money via bank transfer, money transfer, sending fraudsters gift cards and vouchers or presents such as phones and laptops, and providing them with access to their bank account or card.

Romance scams involve people being duped into sending money to criminals who can go to great lengths to gain trust and convince their victims that they are in a genuine relationship. They manipulate, persuade and exploit, so that requests for money do not raise alarm bells. These requests might be highly emotive, such as criminals claiming they need money for emergency medical care for themselves or a child, or to pay for transport costs to visit the victim if they are overseas.

More people have turned to online dating during 2020 due to social distancing restrictions. The Online Dating Association (ODA) estimates that over 2.3 million Brits used dating apps during the first lockdown, with 64 per cent of people surveyed seeing dating apps as a lifeline for those living alone. While the internet can be a way to meet people and form new relationships, online dating is giving criminals more opportunities to exploit and coerce people into parting with their money.

Scammers will often build a relationship with their victims over time, the ODA’s data shows that half (53 per cent) of people surveyed are having longer conversations on dating services during lockdown. UK Finance is therefore calling on people to look out for their friends and family this Valentine’s Day. Dating app users should also speak to their friends and family for advice, and follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign to keep themselves safe from scams.

Stop: Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.
Challenge: Could it be fake? It’s ok to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.
Protect: Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve fallen for a scam and report it to Action Fraud.

Katy Worobec, Managing Director of Economic Crime at UK Finance, said: “With the rising use of online dating service users during lockdown, criminals are using clever tactics to exploit people who think they’ve met their perfect partner online. Romance scams can leave customers out of love and out of pocket, but there are steps people can take to keep themselves or their family and friends safe – both on and offline. People can help their loved ones spot the signs of a scam, particularly as romance scammers can be very convincing by forming an emotional attachment with their victims.

“The banking and finance industry is working hard to protect customers from fraud, but everyone should remain vigilant to the risks of romance scams. If you suspect you’ve been the victim of a scam, please contact your bank as soon as possible.”

And George Kidd, Chief Executive of the Online Dating Association, said: “ODA members work to keep users safe by using human and technology content moderation. Many services allow daters to use “selfies” and video to assure others of their identity. The services offer messaging platforms which allow chat in a managed space. Daters should make the most of this secure environment and remember the time online is the beginning of getting to know someone you have never met in person. You should never hesitate to report if someone asks you for money, even if they do this outside of the dating service.”


Gus Tomlinson, General Manager at software firm GBG, said: “As a result of lockdown restrictions and social distancing, establishing trust digitally has never been more important. Romance scams are yet another type of fraud which is on the rise. As well as more awareness of the key tricks fraudsters use, it is important that online dating platforms also look at how the latest technology can help reduce the number of fake profiles. Whilst consumers are becoming increasingly familiar with more secure identity verification methods when it comes to online banking or shopping, often approval for online dating platforms is solely based on linking a social media account.

“This could be made more trustworthy to not only reduce these scams – but, most importantly, the emotional and financial pain currently caused to victims.”

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