Romance fraud – where a person chats to someone on an online dating site in order to eventually scam them – has increased over the past year, as fraudsters take advantage of loneliness during lockdown.
UK Finance, the association for the banking finance industry, has reported a 20% increase in bank transfers that people made to criminals between January and November 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
People are being warned to be alert when using dating sites for this type of scam in the run-up to Valentine’s Day.
Reports to UK Finance by its members reveal that, on average, victims were scammed out of £7,850 each, significantly impacting on their finances.
Action Fraud has also seen an increase in people reporting this type of scam in 2020, with losses reaching more than £68 million in total.
Pauline Smith, head of Action Fraud, said: “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.”
Victims send gifts and cash
As well as making bank transfers to scammers, victims have sent cash via money transfer, gift cards and vouchers and expensive presents, such as phones and laptops, even giving them their bank account or card details.
Fraudsters can claim that they need money for emergency medical care or to pay for flights to visit the victim if they are living overseas.
“Romance scams can leave customers out of love and out of pocket,” said Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, but has recommended that friends and family look out for warning signs.
“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.”
What to do if you are asked for cash?
If you have not met them in person and you’re not sure of their true identity, you’re advised to:
- tell friends and family about your online relationship and any concerns about requests for money, so they can support you
- don’t transfer or send money, send gifts, allow them access to your bank account or take out a loan or investment on their behalf
- don’t email them copies of personal documents such as your passport or driving licence
- conduct a ‘reverse image search’ on a search engine to find out if the images are fake
- if you think you have been a victim of a scam, contact your bank immediately on the number listed on its website or on the back of your debit or credit card.
For more advice on how to stay safe from romance scams, visit Action Fraud.
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