‘Romance fraud’ is on the rise, with the average loss per victim in 2018 costing £11,145, according to a study by police reporting centre Action Fraud (AF).
This figure represents an increase of more than a quarter on 2017, and AF found that it cost the victims more than £50 million.
More than 4,500 reports of romance fraud were made to AF, with more than 40% reporting that the scam had impacted both their health and financial well being. However, it is likely that in reality this figure is much higher as often victims suffer in silence due to the associated embarrassment.
Romance fraud is when people are duped into parting with funds by partners they have met through online dating. Often the victim thinks they have met their ideal partner, only to be scammed out of money once criminals have gained their trust. Generally, victims are targeted via online dating websites, app, or through social media according to the police.
Often the scammer will ‘catfish’ the victim, using fake pictures and crafting a phoney profile. Once the victim is emotionally hooked, the criminal will use a sob story to get the other person to hand over funds.
Fraudsters will hide their tracks by concealing their IP and using unregistered phone numbers. AF revealed that nearly two-thirds of victims were female with an average age of 50, and that female victims tended to loss twice as much as men.
Commander Karen Baxter, head of the City of London Police’s economic crime department, said: “The emotional damage of falling victim to romance fraud can often be far more difficult to come to terms with.”
One woman lost roughly £10,000 to a man claiming to be in the military. After wooing her, he said he needed money to get a box of belongings returned to the UK. The man had gained her trust by talking about getting married and buying a house together.
Convinced of his honesty, she used a loan and her private pension to provide him with the cash he said he needed. But afterwards she became suspicious and contacted the Foreign Office, which confirmed it was a scam.
Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, said: “We are urging customers to be vigilant against romance scams and not let a fraudster fool you this Valentine’s.
“Banks are always looking out for any suspicious transactions, but we need customers to be on guard against suspicious approaches too. Always be wary of any requests for money from someone you’ve never met in person.”