Looking for love? Then watch out for romance scams

Romance scams have boomed over the past year as fraudsters switched their attention to those searching for companionship during lockdown.

Figures from UK Finance, the trade body, reveal a 20% increase in the number of bank transfer romance frauds in 2020. Overall, victims lost £68m – or more than £7,800 each – last year to this type of fraud, according to the trade body.

Romance fraud is a particularly vile type of scam where fraudsters will pose as a potential love interest on a dating website who is looking for a long-term relationship. Usually over many weeks or even months, the fraudster will try to gain the trust of an unsuspecting victim by trying to convince them that they want a genuine relationship. Once that trust has been built, the criminal will typically ask for cash to help pay for bogus medical bills, to fly over to be with the victim or for some other fictional emergency. However, once the victim sends the money, the fraudster typically flees and is never heard from again.

Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, says: “With the rising use of online dating services 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 online and offline.” Romance scams can be highly sophisticated, and therefore spotting them is not always easy.

However, below are some tips you can use to make sure you stay safe online.

  • Be suspicious: If you are asked for money by someone you haven’t been speaking to for that long, or by someone you have never met, you should assume it’s a scam.
  • Check their profile photo: Typically, scammers will steal the profile picture of someone else and pass it off as their own. However, you can tell if someone has done this by saving the photo and conducting a reverse image search on Google. If the name they gave you doesn’t match the one on your image search, the chances are you’re talking to a scammer.
  • Ask friends and family: If you have any doubts that the person you are talking to is not real, talk to friends and family to see what they think.
  • Guard your personal information: It’s not only money a fraudster may be after, so do not share personal documents such as your driver’s license or passport.
  • Other tell-tale signs: Instead of asking you for money, they may instead ask you to take out a loan for them, or to transfer money to someone on their behalf. You shouldn’t do either of these things, regardless of what reason they give you.
  • Tell the authorities: If you think you’re speaking to a scammer, or you think you may have been the victim of romance fraud, report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or via actionfraud.police.uk.