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Top tips to prevent romance fraudsters stealing your money

Person holding a phone in one hand and a bank card in the other in front of a switch on laptop

An estimated £2.9million was lost last year by 240 victims of romance fraud scams in Avon and Somerset.

We are asking members of the public to speak to friends and family to make them aware of the crime type, which sees people defrauded into sending money to criminals who go to great lengths to gain their trust and convince them that they are in a genuine relationship.

Jenny, from West Somerset, has shared her story of being a victim of romance fraud to help raise awareness.

National increase in reports

Romance fraud is one of the top five most commonly reported frauds to Action Fraud, the national fraud and cybercrime reporting service for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), run by the City of London Police, received 8,792 reports of romance fraud, amounting to losses of over £94.7 million. The average loss per person was £10,774.

Reporting is now at some of the highest levels to date, with an 8.4 per cent increase on the previous 12-month figures (up from 8,110).

For almost a third of those targeted, fraudsters spent more than a year using various tactics to build trust and companionship. This long-term form of coercion is then used to engineer scenarios that pressure victims into handing over money. This could include paying for travel, convincing the victim to pay for an item such as a mobile phone, and, in some cases, taking out loans or making investments on their behalf.

Of the reports made 45 per cent of approaches were via online dating sites, 41 per cent were made by social media and 12 per cent via communications platforms. Increasingly criminals approach targets on social media and communications platforms rather than dating sites, as such approaches are less expected. Some reporting also suggests that criminals are using cold outreach methods, for example ‘wrong number’ messages and hacked social media accounts, to approach targets.

There is a fairly equal split nationally between male and female victims (42 per cent and 58 per cent respectively) and all age groups are affected. Men aged 50–79 and women aged 30-79 report the most.

Staying safe from romance fraudsters

Fraud protect officer Amy Samotyj said: “Online dating has grown massively over the past 10-20 years and it is a fantastic way of meeting new people and finding a perfect relationship.

“Sadly, though, some criminals do try to exploit people’s hope of finding love for their own financial gain and romance fraud is unfortunately one of the most reported fraud types.

“We often see how kind messages on a dating website or app can develop into a victim’s goodwill and kindness being preyed on.

“A common tactic by fraudsters is to strike up a conversation on a recognised platform or site before seeking to move the conversation elsewhere which is not subjected to the same level of monitoring.

“One of the key warning signs we encourage people to look out for is an early declaration of love or talk of making long-term plans, such as marriage or moving in together, after a matter of days or a few weeks. It is a ploy of fraudsters to win the affections and trust of the victim, so they can then ask them for financial help at a later date.”

Here are some tips to help prevent romance fraud:

  • If you have met someone via a dating app, stay within the messaging function of the application. Don’t feel pressured to hand over your mobile number and move the conversation over to SMS or a messaging platform like WhatsApp or Telegram.
  • Be suspicious of any requests for money from someone you have never met in person.
  • Be cautious about how much personal information you are sharing online and who you are sharing information with.
  • Fraudsters can prey on victims’ emotions, for example making early declarations of love or discuss the possibility of marriage soon after meeting. Then having won affection and trust will invariably have a time-critical issue that requires money.
  • Speak to your family or friends to get advice and perspective. Fraudsters will subtly isolate you for their own purposes. We always suggest if people are unsure to take five minutes, and tell two people to gain their views.
  • Profile photos may not be genuine. Performing a reverse image search can find photos that have been taken from somewhere, or someone, else.

It is important that no matter how long you’ve been speaking to someone online and how much you think you trust them.

We advise not to do the following:

  • Send them any money, even in the form of gift cards
  • Allow access to your bank account (login details should always be kept private from anyone)
  • Transfer money on their behalf or give them a loan
  • Provide copies of personal documents, e.g. passport or driving licence
  • Invest money on their behalf
  • Agree to receive and/or send parcels for them

We encourage anyone who is a victim of fraud to report it to Action Fraud, either by completing the online fraud reporting tool or call 0300 123 2040.

If you have lost any money, it is important you also immediately report it to your bank by calling the number on the back of your bank card.