In this world of digital everythings it’s now common for romance to blossom online. In fact nearly one-third of UK adults are now using a dating website (or app) to find their ‘perfect partner’.
Unfortunately for all the lonely hearts out there, there are also lots of online scammers looking for money rather than love.
In the UK data from the police reporting centre Action Fraud, showed that £50m was lost in these scams in 2018 alone.
The total is likely to be higher as many victims are thought to have suffered in secret.
Action Fraud say that the average age of a romance fraud victim is 50 and 63% of victims are women. They lose twice as much on average as males.
Head of the City of London Police’s economic crime department, Commander Karen Baxter, said:
“As cases of romance fraud increase each year, so too does the cost to victims, both emotionally and financially.
The emotional damage of falling victim to romance fraud can often be far more difficult to come to terms with.”
Unfortunately, this sort of cybercrime also seems to pay off in the US of A, with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reporting a record 304 million US dollars lost to romance scams in 2020 alone.
However, there are steps you can take to protect yourself.
What is a Romance Scam?
Romance scams often take the form of “catfishing”, which are online dating hoaxes that target unsuspecting singles.
These catfishing romance scammers usually create fake identities and profiles on social media platforms or dating apps.
The scammers primary objective is to start an online relationship (and win the trust of) their unsuspecting victim with the ultimate aim of swindling money from them.
How do Scammers Operate?
A catfishing romance scammer will set up a profile on a dating or social media platform. They will then either use it to contact potential targets or, in some cases, wait to be contacted by other users on the dating site.
Once they have connected with a likely victim, they will start by exchanging seemingly innocent messages on that platform.
However, they will soon suggest moving the relationship off the dating website onto a more private channel like email or messaging – sometimes even phone.
They will then endeavour to forge an emotional bond with their intended victim, showering them with charm, showing intense interest in them, and sending frequent romantic messages.
In order to build trust, the scammer will usually have created an elaborate life story which they will gradually share eg: a successful career, past failed relationships, various hobbies and interests.
In this beginning phase, money is never usually mentioned.
Once the victim has formed a romantic attachment, the scammer will often pretend to need money due to a financial emergency, such as a robbery, a severely ill family member or a business loss.
Often they will claim that they would like to travel in order to meet their newfound sweetheart, but they need money for a plane ticket.
The scammer will then ask their target to wire money in order to help them out of this tight spot. They might also suggest their victim sends them a cash reload card or a gift card.
The scammer will usually keep up the façade of romance until the victim’s requests to meet become too urgent or they stop sending money – at which point they will abruptly cut off contact and disappear.
In other cases, scammers ask their victims to accept and transfer money from their bank account or pick up and resend items such as computers or smartphones.
These scenarios are generally attempts to either launder money or to move stolen goods rather than to defraud the victim of their own money. This ultimately makes the target an unwitting partner in their crimes.
In addition to the heartbreak, the victim is left much poorer – or is facing the consequences for being involved in the scammer’s illegal schemes.
How to recognise an Online Dating Scam
Romance scammers start with a fake online profile. Some clues that a profile might not be real:
- Their social media profile was created recently and the “friends” all come from different foreign countries.
- The profile photo or other shared images seem staged and the people unusually attractive, more like models in a photo shoot.
- They claim to have a job that keeps them far away or traveling often, like military service or working on an oil rig.
- They claim a level of education or nationality that does not match their language ability, e.g. someone states they have a degree from a US university but displays poor English skills.
It can be difficult to spot a fake dating profile immediately. That’s why it’s important to do your homework.
Search the internet thoroughly for signs that the person actually exists other than on social media sites.
You can also perform a reverse image search of their profile picture to see if it has appeared elsewhere, or search for their name plus the term “romance scam” to see if they have been mentioned as a possible scammer on other forums.
What to do if you’ve been scammed?
If you realize that you have been played by a romance scammer, you should break off all contact immediately. Consider reporting them to the authorities, like the FTC in the United States, and notify the website or app where they created their profile.
If you have given your bank account details to a scammer, it is vital that you contact your financial institution immediately.
Protect yourself from Romance Scams
To keep yourself from falling prey to an online dating scam, keep the following in mind:
- Don’t get swept up in the romance. It is only human to want to find true love, but it’s also important to maintain a healthy degree of skepticism about an allegedly attractive, successful individual who wants to start a long-distance relationship with a stranger.
- Be careful what you share publicly online. Scammers can use details that you post on social media to target you and forge a connection.
- If your friends or family members express concern about your relationship, give them a fair hearing and try to honestly assess if their worries are valid.
- NEVER, ever send money to someone you only know online or over the phone.
- Never give out your bank account information to someone you met online. Even if the other person wants to use it to send you money, you may be getting involved in a money laundering scheme, which is a crime.
- Before you share intimate photos or videos of yourself, keep in mind that they can be reposted or forwarded – and remember always that scammers sometimes use compromising images to blackmail their targets.
- Remember that scammers can appear as male or female.
We hope you found this article helpful – we look forward to your feedback in the comments below.
For now lets all enjoy the music of Soft Cell and their rendition of Tainted Love.
Author: Michael W
Editor: Rambling in Pen