Valentine’s day is around the corner and what should be a time to celebrate all things love, UK Finance is urging the public to be vigilant and look out for friends and family and help keep them safe from romance fraud.
UK Finance revealed in a report that they had seen a 20 percent increase in bank transfer romance fraud between January to November 2020. The money lost to these scams is £18.5 million which is a rise of 12 percent, the average loss to victims is a staggering £7,850 and for some vulnerable people this is a life changing amount of money.
These large amounts of money are so alarming that officials are warning friends and family to be on the lookout for these types of scams especially as the UK is now in its third lockdown and more and more people are being targeted by criminals.
What is romance Fraud?
Romance scams involve victims being tricked into sending money to people they have formed romantic attachments too over the internet. Unsurprisingly there has been a sharp increase in online dating since the first lockdown started last year. The Online Dating Association released figures recently that showed nearly 2.3 million people had signed up to dating sites during the first lockdown. This sharp growth has given criminals more opportunities to exploit people who are vulnerable and lonely.
Romance Fraud happens when a victim is tricked into thinking they have entered a genuine relationship with someone they have met via a dating app, online profile or through social media. The reality is the victim is unknowingly communicating with a fraudster, who’s only intention is to gain enough trust to then steal their money, personal information or even identity. These criminals are highly manipulative and are able to persuade innocent people into handing over large sums of money. They go to great lengths to gain trust and often take their time when forming these connections, so the victim is emotionally attached and committed before the scammer starts to exploit them for money.
Speaking to Action Fraud, Katy Worobec from the Economic Crime at UK Finance said: “With the rising use of online dating service users 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 have been the victim of a scam, please contact your bank as soon as possible.”
Action Fraud is working with UK Finance and has highlighted the below signs to look out for in family and friends who you think may be involved or at risk to romance fraud:
- They may be very secretive about their relationship or provide excuses for why their online partner has not video called or met them in person. They might become hostile or angry and withdraw from 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.
Action Fraud recommend the following tips to avoid romance scams:
Do not rush into an online relationship – get to know the person, not the profile and ask plenty of questions.
- Analyse their profile and check the person is genuine by putting their name, profile pictures or any repeatedly used phrases and the term ‘dating scam’ into your search engine.
- Talk to your friends and family about your dating choices. Be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them.
- Evade scammers by never sending money to, or sharing your bank details with, someone you have met online, no matter what reason they give or how long you have been speaking to them.
- Stay on the dating site messenger service until you are confident the person is who they say they are. If you do decide to meet in person, make sure the first meeting is in a public place and let someone else know where you are going to be.
Finally, officials are asking people not to be embarrassed or ashamed if they fall victim to romance fraud and are urging people to come forward and report it. Contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or via actionfraud.police.uk. If you are in Scotland, please report to Police Scotland directly by calling 101.
It is important that no matter how long you have been speaking to someone online and how much you think you trust them, if you have not met them in person it is important that you do not:
- Send them any money.
- Allow them access to your bank account.
- Transfer money on their behalf.
- Take a loan out for them.
- Provide copies of your personal documents such as passports or driving licenses.
- Invest your own money on their behalf or on their advice.
- Purchase and send the codes on gift cards from Amazon or iTunes.
- Agree to receive and/or send parcels on their behalf (laptops, mobile phones etc.)