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‘Rom-con’ warning as romance scams soar by 30% ahead of Valentine’s Day

Written by: Emma Lunn
Lloyds Bank has issued a warning about the number of people falling victim to romance scams ahead of Valentine’s Day.

“Rom-cons” have increased by more than 30% since last year, according to the bank’s figures. It says that social media and dating apps have increasingly played into the hands of romance scammers in recent years, who can easily pretend to be someone else in their profile, using fake information and photos.

The average amount lost by each victim in the past 12 months was £8,234, slightly less than the previous year (£8,655).

Romance scams often leave victims struggling with significant emotional trauma. Not only do they have to deal with the financial impact, they also have to come to terms with the realisation that the “relationship” – which may have been cultivated over months or even years – is not real.

Who is falling victim to romance scams?

Last year, men were more likely than women to fall victim to a romance scam, making up about 53% of all cases.

Those aged between 65 and 74 were the most likely to be tricked into sending money to a fraudster masquerading as a romantic partner, with the number of cases amongst this age group rising by almost 75% year on year. The average amount lost by this demographic was just over £12,000.

Cases were reported across the UK, but the South East of England was a particular hot spot, as relative to population size, the number of victims was around 15% higher than the national average.

How does a typical romance scam work?

Scammers will usually target victims on social media platforms such as Facebook, or dating apps such as Tinder. But they might quickly try to move the conversation onto a private messaging platform like WhatsApp.

Typically they will come across as very caring and attentive, messaging back and forth – sometimes over a period of months – to build trust and give the impression that the relationship is genuine.

The fraudster may have scoured social profiles to help persuade their victim that they are the perfect match based on shared interests or personal circumstances.

Often they will claim to be living or working abroad to explain why they can’t meet in person. They might also invent reasons why they can’t turn their camera on during calls.

Eventually they will start to tell stories about family or legal issues, business problems or medical bills. They might appear reluctant to accept any help at first, but this is all part of the con.

Amounts could be small to begin with, but over time they convince their victim to send more and more money.

Beware of online romance

Liz Ziegler, fraud prevention director at Lloyds Bank, said: “The convincing lies told by fraudsters mean that while romance scam victims think they are falling in love, they’re actually falling for a scam. As well as losing thousands of pounds they also have to deal with this emotional betrayal.

“The sad truth is there was never any genuine connection, with criminals ruthlessly targeting multiple victims at the same time, and disappearing with the money as soon as they get found out.

“While online dating should be a fun and empowering experience, it’s vital that people are able to spot the warning signs, to keep both themselves and their loved ones safe. If you’ve started an online relationship and the discussion turns to money – regardless of the reason or the amounts involved – then alarm bells should be ringing.

“Never send money to people you’ve never met in person, no matter how much you’ve spoken online. Talking to a real-life friend or family member can be a good way to sense check what’s going on.”

Last week, TSB reported that the amount of money lost to romance scams rose by 95% between 2020 and 2022.

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