'Romance fraud' has risen by 20% during lockdown - how to stay safe when dating online

Stay safe while dating online (Photo: Shutterstock)Stay safe while dating online (Photo: Shutterstock)
Stay safe while dating online (Photo: Shutterstock)

According to new figures from UK Finance, romance fraud - which refers to someone being scammed out of money by someone pretending to be interested in a relationship - has risen during lockdown.

UK Finance revealed that there was a 20 per cent increase in bank transfer fraud linked to romance scams between January and November 2020, compared to 2019.

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The total value of these scams has risen 12 per cent, to £18.5 million, and the average loss per victim reported to UK Finance members was £7,850.

‘Criminals are using clever tactics to exploit people’

Katy Worobec, Managing Director of Economic Crime at UK Finance, said: “While the use of online dating service rises 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.”

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Signs someone might be involved in a romance scam

Action Fraud says that these are the signs that a friend or family member might be involved in a romance scam:

  • They might be very secretive about their relationship, or provide excuses for why their partner has not video called them, or met with them in person - they might become hostile or angry, and withdraw from the 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

How to stay safe

Action Fraud issues the following advice on how to stay safe:

  • Be suspicious of any requests for money from someone you have never met in person, particularly if you have only met online recently
  • Speak to your family and friends for advice
  • Profile photos may not be genuine, so do your research first - you can perform a reverse image search on a search engine to find photos that have been taken from somewhere, or someone, else

It’s important that no matter how long you’ve been speaking to someone online for, or how much you think you trust them, if you haven’t met them in person, you should not:

  • Send them money
  • Allow them access to your bank account
  • Transfer money on their behalf
  • Take out a loan for them
  • Provide copies of your personal documents such as passports or driving licenses
  • Invest your own money on their behalf or advice
  • Purchase and send them the codes on gift cards from places like Amazon
  • Agree to receive and/or send parcels on their behalf

What to do if you think you’re a victim of a scam

Action Fraud says: “If you think you have been a victim of a romance scam, do not feel ashamed or embarrassed - you are not alone.”

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You should contact your bank immediately, and also report the scam to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, or via the Action Fraud website.

Those living in Scotland can report the scam to Police Scotland by calling 101.