Insight

Happy Valentine’s Day – or is it?

Written by David Povey on Monday February 14, 2022


A look inside the dangerous world of romance fraud

Action Fraud describes romance fraud as ‘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’. [1]

Romance fraud is a crime that often avoids the headlines when compared to tax or credit card fraud, but it is on the rise and can leave victims with not just a loss of money but can also be a big hit to their self-esteem, if not very emotionally damaging. Criminals will use convincing language to manipulate, persuade and exploit their victims, building a believable relationship and gaining the victim’s trust so that, by the time they come to ask for money, the victim doesn’t think anything is wrong and is more than happy to send it. Especially when the request is highly emotive, such as criminals claiming they need money for rental bills, emergency health support, or to pay for transport costs to visit the victim if they are overseas.

 Happy Valentine’s Day – or is it?

The effect of COVID-19.

Over the last two years the world has experienced an unprecedented global pandemic. But then, this isn’t news, we’re all well aware of it. However, one of the serious consequences that may not be obvious has been the increase in the feeling of loneliness for many people, particularly due to the isolation of lockdowns, social distancing and working-from-home measures put in place, and this has all led to many people looking for different ways to feel better. As we became more physically remote from each other, we had to turn to other ways of sourcing human contact; the Internet and social media became a crux for people to stay in touch with friends and family. With this increase in Internet use, the growth in loneliness and the increasing engagement in online dating sites during COVID-19, opportunities for romance fraud have increased.

Dating websites reported record numbers in online engagement during COVID-19 and many users were experiencing social isolation and vulnerability due to stay-at-home orders, which became the ideal combination of factors for an extensive rise in romance fraud. According to consumer group Which?, romance fraud has increased by 40% during the pandemic. Its analysis of Action Fraud data found romance fraud reports were up by 40% in the year to April 2021, compared with the previous year, with more than 7,500 reported scams. Reported losses reached £73.9 million during the period – but the true figure is likely to be much higher as many victims are too embarrassed or upset to tell the authorities.[2]

Unsurprisingly there has been a drop in physical crime such as burglaries,[3] so the increase in online crime makes sense as criminals constantly seek new ways to make money.

How does it happen?

Happy Valentine’s Day…or is it?

Romance fraud can begin in a number of different ways: social media, online chat rooms and dating sites to name a few. The criminal will spark up an attraction and begin to build trust and an online relationship is formed. They will appear very interested in the victim, asking them lots of questions about them but often disclosing very little about themselves – just enough to lure the victim in. Over a number of weeks or months this trust grows, and the victim believes they are in a loving and caring relationship. However, the criminal’s end goal is only ever financial gain or to harvest personal information. This is no easy feat and fortunately the potential victims sometime realise what is happening and get themselves out of the situation before they financially lose out. For this reason, criminals spend hours and hours researching their victims and become experts at impersonating people.

Don’t become a victim

Happy Valentine’s Day…or is it?

Crimestoppers[4] have come up with some key warning signs that you may be a victim of romance fraud. 

  • You’ve struck up a relationship with someone online and they declare their love for you quickly. Many fraudsters claim to be overseas because they work in the military or medical profession.
  • They make up excuses as to why they can’t video chat or meet in person, and will try to move your conversations off the platform you met on.
  • When they ask for financial help, it’ll be for a time-critical emergency, and the reason will be something that pulls at the heartstrings. They may get defensive if you decline to help.
  • Their pictures are too perfect – they may have been stolen from an actor or model. Reverse image search can find photos that have been taken from somewhere else.
  • They tell you to keep your relationship private and not to discuss anything with your friends and family.

Crimestoppers have also released a 3-step guide to protecting yourself from becoming a victim.

  • STOP: Take a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information.
  • CHALLENGE: Is this person really who they say they are? Could it be fake? It’s OK to reject, refuse or ignore any requests for your financial or personal details. 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. If you’re in Scotland, you can report to Police Scotland by calling 101.

By keeping these in mind, you will be better equipped to protect yourself and not fall victim. But what about your friends and loved ones?

How can you protect and support your loved ones?

 Happy Valentine’s Day…or is it?

People who have been victims of romance fraud have spoken about how hard they found it to speak up about it, admit what had happened, or even recognise that it was a scam. Telling someone that you think they are becoming a victim to romance fraud is a very hard conversation to have. They will often be confident that the person they are in a relationship with is real, the feelings are real, and they don’t want to believe otherwise. There are some tell-tale signs that someone is either on the verge of becoming or has been a victim of romance fraud:

  • they are secretive about a new relationship
  • they will make excuses for the other person when asked why they haven’t met them yet
  • they will know few details about the other person.

If you’re worried about someone then it’s best to calmly approach the subject with some of the facts above and handle it sensitively.

What do the authorities say?

Happy Valentine’s Day…or is it?
Report it. Report it. Report it.

This is the single common message across all police and advisory companies out there. You can report it Action Fraud and it is also important to tell your bank if you have sent any money from your account.

It is very difficult for the authorities to spot, as much of the activity takes place on a personal level. Financial institutions are able to spot suspicious transactions that can occur from romance fraud and can take action, but often this is only possible once the money has been sent. It is because of this that it’s so important for everyone to understand the dangers of romance fraud. It is a tough process for the victim to claim their money back once they have sent it, which is why reporting it is so important.

It’s not all bad though. There are many success stories from online dating, and it’s been a gamechanger in the last decade as dating practises have changed. It’s even more important these days to be careful online, and by following some of the guidance in this article we can all be safer online and look after ourselves and each other.


You may also like to read:


[1] Action Fraud, ‘Romance fraud’: https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/a-z-of-fraud/dating-fraud –accessed January 2022

[2] Vickey Shaw, ‘Romance fraud reports soar by 40% during coronavirus pandemic, says Which?’, The Independent, 11 June 2021: https://www.independent.co.uk/money/romance-fraud-reports-soar-by-40-during-coronavirus-pandemic-says-which-b1863838.html – accessed January 2022

[3] Joseph Lee, ‘Crime drops by 8% during year of lockdowns, says ONS’, BBC News, 13 May 2021: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-57098807 – accessed January 2022

[4] Crimestoppers, ‘Romance fraud’: https://crimestoppers-uk.org/keeping-safe/fraud/romance-fraud – accessed January 2022


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