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'Money' at first sight? How to guard against romance fraud

Laptop with a red heart cutout

Millions of people use online dating, and there are countless happy stories of those who have found true love. But sometimes it can be a bit of a lottery, and you can't always be sure you're chatting to someone with genuine intentions.

This means that, as well as taking basic safety precautions, it's important to protect yourself against financial scams. Fraudsters have a variety of tricks up their sleeve for gaining your confidence and appearing to be something they are not.

According to UK Finance, the banking and financial services industry association, more than £15m was lost to romance scams in the first half of 2021 alone.

In the last year, nearly 40% of people who dated someone they met online said they were asked to give or lend money despite having never met in-person.

Criminals go to great lengths to build fake profiles and will often steal photos, according to the Online Dating Association. Once fraudsters connect with you on dating sites, social media or gaming platforms, they'll try to establish a relationship quickly.

After gaining your trust and convincing you that you're in a genuine relationship, fraudsters then try to persuade you to send them money.

"Typically, romance fraudsters will spend weeks gaining their victims' trust, feeding them fabricated stories about who they are and their lives -- and initially make no suggestion of any desire to ask for any money, so the victim may believe their new love interest is genuine," explained Temporary Detective Chief Superintendent Matt Bradford from the City of London Police.

"But weeks, or sometimes months later, these criminals will ask for money for a variety of emotive reasons and as the emotional relationship has already been formed, victims often transfer money without a second thought."

The three most common reasons people were asked for money were: to pay for an emergency (37%); to pay for the person's travel to meet them (36%); and to make an investment (29%).

The average amount of money people were asked for was £345, although some were asked for more than £1,000.

If you're ever asked for cash from someone you've never met in person, it should set off alarm bells.

Here's some advice from UK Finance's Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign and the Online Dating Association on how to stay safe from romance scams when dating online:

  • 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 and share experiences.
  • Profile photos may not be genuine, so do your research first. You can do this by uploading a picture of the person you're talking to into your search engine to check that profile photos are not associated with another name. Performing a reverse image search can find photos that have been taken from somewhere, or someone, else.
  • Stay on the dating site's messaging service until you're confident the person is who they say they are and ensure meetings in person take place in a public place. Online dating platforms have moderation and reporting processes in place to protect daters and remove scammers.
  • Contact your bank straight away if you think you may have fallen for a romance scam, notify Action Fraud and let the platform on which you met the scammer know about the incident.

Posted by Fidelius on February 14th 2022

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