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Warnings raised after sharp rise in romance scams

John Fitzsimons
Written By:
John Fitzsimons

New data from the banking trade body UK Finance revealed that there had been a 20% increase in bank transfer romance frauds between January and November 2020, with the money lost to these scams jumping 12% to a whopping £18.5 million.

On average, victims lost £7,850, demonstrating the punishing impact being duped by a romance fraudster can have on your finances.

The figures follow stats from Barclaycard suggesting that 2020 was the worst ever year for scams, while previous research has highlighted how men are more likely to fall victim to fraudsters.

How romance scams work

With a romance scam, fraudsters trick their victims into sending them money or valuable items by acting as if they are in a genuine relationship. They will attempt to win your trust early on, declaring their love even if you have never met in person, before asking for money from you.

These often aren’t straightforward requests for cash either; the criminals use highly emotive language and scenarios to make it seem genuine, such as needing money for emergency medical treatment or transport. 

However Action Fraud has reported that victims of these scams have lost money in a variety of different ways, from money transfers to being talked into sending the criminals gift cards, phones and laptops, as well as providing them with access to the victim’s credit or debit card.

The jump in romance scams is at least partly down to more people turning to online dating last year due to lockdowns and social distancing restrictions. Figures from the Online Dating Association suggest that as many as 2.3 million Brits used dating apps during the first lockdown.

Signs of a romance scam

UK Finance highlighted some of the telltale signs which suggest a friend or family member may have been caught in a romance scam:

  • They are secretive about their relationship or provide excuses for why their online partner has not video called or met them in person
  • They express 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 in person.

In order to protect yourself from falling prey to these scammers, it’s really important that you are suspicious of any requests for money from anyone you have not met in person. UK Finance suggested speaking to your family and friends to get advice, and carrying out a reverse image search on the person’s profile picture to get a better idea of whether it really is them or is a photo taken from somewhere else.

Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, warned that romance scams can leave people out of love and out of pocket.

She continued: 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.”