With all forms of financial scam on the rise during the pandemic, one scam we don’t talk about often enough is the romance scam and UK Finance is encouraging us to be vigilant and look out for friends or family who might fall victim.
The data from UK Finance shows that there has been a 20% increase in bank transfer romance fraud between January and November 2020, compared to the same period a year earlier.
The total amount lost in these romance scams rose by 12% to reach £18.5 million.
On average, the victim of a romance scam lost £7,850.
There are several ways in which fraudsters can trick their victims into sending them money, with bank transfers only one approach.
According to Action Fraud, members of the public reported more than £68 million worth of romance scam losses in 2020.
Reports of romance scams to Action Fraud included losing 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.
These scams usually involve people being convinced to send money to the criminals, who go to extensive lengths to gain trust and convince their victims they are in a genuine relationship.
The requests for money can be highly emotive, including claims that the scammer needs the cash for emergency medical care or to fund transport costs to visit their victim from overseas.
With more people turning to online dating during the pandemic, as a result of social distancing requirements, romance scams have become more common.
Figures from the Online Dating Association show that more than 2.3 million people in the UK used dating apps during the first national lockdown.
64% of people using dating apps said they were a lifeline when living alone.
The rising popularity of online dating apps creates more opportunities for scammers to exploit and coerce people into giving them their money.
Scammers can often take time to build a relationship with their victim, with the Online Dating Association finding that 53% of people surveyed are having longer conversations on dating apps during lockdown.
UK Finance is calling on us to look out for our friends and family, and suggest they follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign to stay 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.”
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.”
Pauline Smith, Head of Action Fraud, said:
“Last year, we sadly saw criminals exploit the coronavirus pandemic as a means to commit fraud, and romance fraud was no exception. The national lockdowns, and other restrictions on our social lives, implemented because of the coronavirus outbreak, have meant more people have been seeking companionship online and this has undoubtedly affected the number of reports we have seen.
“It’s important to say that most online dating sites, social media sites and gaming apps are perfectly safe. However, any online platform that allows you to connect with and talk to other people could be targeted by romance fraudsters so it’s important to remain vigilant.
“If you think you’ve been a victim of romance fraud, please don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed – you are not alone. Anyone can fall victim to fraud, but it’s important that contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud.”
UK Finance shared some signs that your friend or family member may be involved in a romance scam:
They may be very secretive about their relationship or provide excuses for why their online partner has not video called or met them in person. They might become hostile or angry, and withdraw from conversation when you ask any questions about their partner.
They may express very strong emotions and commitment to someone they have only just met.
They have sent, or are planning to send, money to someone they have not met face-to-face. They may take out loans or withdraw from their pension to send money.
You can stay safe from romance scams by following these steps:
Be suspicious of any requests for money from someone you have never met in person, particularly if you have only recently met online.
Speak to your family or friends to get advice.
Profile photos may not be genuine, do your research first. Performing a reverse image search on a search engine can find photos that have been taken from somewhere, or someone, else.
If you think you have been a victim of romance fraud, you are not alone and should not feel ashamed or embarrassed.
Call your bank immediately and also report the incident to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or visiting actionfraud.police.uk.