UK Finance is today urging the public to be vigilant and look out for friends and family to help keep them safe from romance scams this Valentine’s Day.
New data from UK Finance reveals a 20 per cent increase in bank transfer romance fraud between January - November 2020 compared to the previous year, with the total value of these scams rising by 12 per cent to £18.5 million. The average loss per victim reported to UK Finance members was £7,850, highlighting the significant impact this type of fraud can have on victims’ finances.
But criminals can trick victims into sending them money in many ways, not just via a bank transfer. Action Fraud has also seen a rise in reports made by members of the public who have fallen victim to romance fraud in 2020, with total reported losses equating to over £68 million. In these reports, victims have lost money via bank transfer, money transfer, sending fraudsters gift cards and vouchers or presents such as phones and laptops, and providing them with access to their bank account or card.
Romance scams involve people being duped into sending money to criminals who go to great lengths to gain their trust and convince them that they are in a genuine relationship. They use language to manipulate, persuade and exploit so that requests for money do not raise alarm bells. These requests might be highly emotive, such as criminals claiming they need money for emergency medical care, or to pay for transport costs to visit the victim if they are overseas.
The rise in romance scams comes as more people have turned to online dating during 2020 due to social distancing restrictions. Figures from the Online Dating Association (ODA) estimate that over 2.3 million Brits used dating apps during the first lockdown, with 64 per cent of people surveyed seeing dating apps as a lifeline for those living alone. While the internet can be a great way to meet people and form new relationships, the growth in popularity of online dating is giving criminals more opportunities to exploit and coerce people into parting with their money.
Scammers will often build a relationship with their victims over time, the ODA’s data shows that half (53 per cent) of people surveyed are having longer conversations on dating services during lockdown. UK Finance is therefore calling on people to look out for their friends and family this Valentine’s Day. Dating app users should also speak to their friends and family for advice, and follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign to keep themselves safe from scams.
- Stop: Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.
- Challenge: Could it be fake? It’s ok to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.
- Protect: Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve fallen for a scam and report it to Action Fraud.
Katy Worobec, Managing Director of 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’ve been the victim of a scam, please contact your bank as soon as possible.”
George Kidd, Chief Executive of the Online Dating Association, said:
“ODA members work to keep users safe by using human and technology content moderation. Many services allow daters to use “selfies” and video to assure others of their identity. The services offer messaging platforms which allow chat in a managed space. Daters should make the most of this secure environment and remember the time online is the beginning of getting to know someone you have never met in person. You should never hesitate to report if someone asks you for money, even if they do this outside of the dating service.”
Pauline Smith, Head of Action Fraud, said:
“Last year, we sadly saw criminals exploit the coronavirus pandemic as a means to commit fraud, and romance fraud was no exception. The national lockdowns, and other restrictions on our social lives, implemented because of the coronavirus outbreak, have meant more people have been seeking companionship online and this has undoubtedly affected the number of reports we have seen.
“It’s important to say that most online dating sites, social media sites and gaming apps are perfectly safe. However, any online platform that allows you to connect with and talk to other people could be targeted by romance fraudsters so it’s important to remain vigilant.
“If you think you’ve been a victim of romance fraud, please don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed – you are not alone. Anyone can fall victim to fraud, but it’s important that contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud.”
Signs your friend or family member may be involved in a romance scam:
- 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.
How users can stay safe from romance scams:
- Be suspicious of any requests for money from someone you have never met in person, particularly if you have only recently met online.
- Speak to your family or friends to get advice.
- Profile photos may not be genuine, do your research first. Performing a reverse image search on a search engine can find photos that have been taken from somewhere, or someone, else.
If you think you have been a victim of a romance scam, do not feel ashamed or embarrassed - you are not alone. 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’ve been speaking to someone online and how much you think you trust them, if you have not met them in person it’s 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.)