Online romance scams reaping millions

New figures have revealed online romance scams cost victims £7.9 million in the first half of last year alone – an increase of 64% year on year – and only £500,000 was returned to victims.

UK Finance, the trade body for the British banking industry, says that 55% of people using online dating services are leaving themselves open to being scammed by trusting the other person before meeting them in real life.

All too often that other person may not be who they are pretending to be to ‘catfish’ unsuspecting victims.

Operating via social media or dating services, the scammer snares the victim and convinces them they have met their perfect partner.

The catfisher then either persuades the target to send some money or manages to get hold of enough personal information to steal their identity and their cash.

One in five people told the survey they had either been asked for or given money to people they had met online.

Bright future

In a case reported by the BBC, Elspet met Brian on a dating website and got to know each other via email.

Brian promised 67-year-old Elspet a bright future with marriage and their own bungalow.

Then he told Elspet he was in the military and had been asked by a diplomat friend to take some of his belongings home, but needed money for fares and courier fees.

But Brian was not real and his scam cost Elspet £10,000. Speaking about her experience she said: “You feel shame. You feel stupid and depressed.”

Social media

Thomas and Tonia met on social media. They talked via message for seven months, growing closer together until Thomas became besotted by the woman who appeared to have so much in common with him.

Said Thomas: “Looking back now I can’t believe how easy it was for her to take advantage of me. I had no idea she was tricking me into giving out my personal details so she could get money.”

He had given Tonia enough information for her to take out loans in his name. He only realised he had been scammed when he started to get letters from the loan companies.

Up 64%

The UK Finance survey of 2,000 people showed romance scams were up by 64% in the first half of last year and that men were more likely to be asked for money than women.

UK Finance managing director of economic crime, Katy Worobec, said: “Romance scams are both emotionally and financially damaging for victims.

The popularity of online dating services has made it easier for criminals to target victims, so we urge everyone to be cautious.

“Although banks are always looking out for suspicious activity, customers must be on their guard and protect themselves too.

Always be wary of requests for money from someone you’ve never met in person. If you think you’ve been the victim of a romance scam, contact your bank immediately.”

Warning signs

Consumer credit reporting agency Equifax listed the warning signs:

  • They prefer to move communications away from dating websites. They may suggest that you move to instant messaging, text or phone calls instead
  • They ask a lot personal questions about you
  • They avoid answering personal questions about themselves. The details that they do tell you seem made up or don’t reflect reality. For instance, they may say that they’re university educated, but their spelling and grammar is poor
  • They try to establish a bond quickly. For example, they may give you an endearing pet name or tell you that ‘they’ve never felt like this before’
  • They ask for financial help. They may also tell you about money problems frequently in the hope that you’ll offer to help
  • You never meet them in person. They may promise to see you, but either cancel every time or offer excuses which delay meeting up, like financial troubles
  • You perform a reverse image search of their profile photo and it seems to belong to someone else

They also suggested ways you can avoid being cat-fished:

  • Don’t share personal details with a stranger. You have no idea what they might do with them
  • Don’t send or receive money, no matter how convincing their story is
  • Use trusted dating websites and communicate with them through the site’s own messaging service
  • Don’t share personal contact details on a dating site until you’re ready to do so
  • Think twice before using your webcam – the footage could be used against you
  • Trust your instincts. If you feel like something’s not right be careful because it may be