Romance scams cost victims £7.9 million last year - here’s how to spot one

11 February 2020

UK Finance warns that more than half of people who use dating apps or websites are vulnerable to fraud

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Victims of romance scams lost £7.9 million in the first half of 2019, up by 50% on the previous year, a new survey shows.

Romance fraud happens when the victim thinks they have met their perfect partner through a dating site, but in fact a fraudster has used a fake profile to gain their trust.

After the fraudster has gained the victim’s trust they will then ask for money or use their personal details to steal their identity.

With more and more people using dating apps, romance fraud is on the increase, up 64% in the first half of 2019 compared to the same period the year before, according to UK Finance.

It says that one in five people using online dating services say that they have either been asked for or given money to someone that they met online.

The survey of more than 2,000 people found that men (26%) were more likely to be asked for money than women (15%).

The average amount of money that was requested or given was £321, although some respondents were asked for greater sums.

UK Finance says that more than a quarter (27%) of respondents said they had been ‘catfished’ – when the scammer uses a fake photo or persona in the past 12 months.

UK Finance is warning that 55% of people who use online dating services are leaving themselves vulnerable to being scammed, by trusting the person they are in contact with before meeting in real life.

Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, says: “Romance scams are both emotionally and financially damaging for victims. The popularity of online dating services has made it easier for criminals to target victims, so we urge everyone to be cautious this Valentine’s.

“Although banks are always looking out for suspicious activity, customers must be on their guard and protect themselves too. Always be wary of requests for money from someone you’ve never met in person. If you think you’ve been the victim of a romance scam, contact your bank immediately.”

How to spot a romance scam

Victims are targeted through online dating websites, social media or apps.

Criminals will often ask lots of personal questions about you in a short space of time but won’t tell you anything about themselves.

They will also use fake photographs in order to trick you into thinking they are real, known as ‘catfishing’.

Sometimes, the fraudster will concoct a sob story about how they need they need a large sum of cash. For example, they might claim they have a relative who is ill or need the money for a plane ticket to see you.

Peter Janes, chief executive of secure payments firm Shieldpay, says: “With more and more people finding love through online dating, the risks are becoming increasingly prevalent and money from the well-intentioned ends up in the wrong hands.

“Potential victims should be aware of the red flags – being pressured to send money or information on the spot is likely to be suspect.”

How to stay safe from romance scams

  • Never send money to someone you have never met.
  • Be careful about the personal information you give out.
  • Speak to your family or friends to get advice.
  • Profile photos may not be genuine, so do your research first.
  • Contact your bank straight away if you think you may have fallen victim to a romance scam.

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