09 February 2022

TSB reveals alarming details of romance fraud, which spiked by 91 percent during the pandemic

New research1 from TSB reveals alarming details of romance fraud cases, with the average ‘relationship’ seeing victims of romance fraud making payments for two months (62 days) – and with over a third of all cases2 starting on Facebook.

Across the banking industry, romance fraud almost doubled during the pandemic with a recorded increase in losses of 91 percent3 compared to pre-pandemic levels - and an average loss of £6,100.

To better explain the psychology behind these scams, TSB has teamed up with Relationship Coach and Psychologist, Sam Owen, who said: “The past two years left people craving human connection, especially if they’d been living alone and feeling lonely while the rest of the world seemed coupled-up. Sadly it was the perfect storm that would inevitably result in a significant increase in digital fraud cases.”

TSB found that female customers made up two thirds (66%) of the Bank’s cases, compared to a third (33%) for males.

On average, female customers lost £6,300, compared to £4,600 for men.

Where does Romance Fraud start?

TSB can reveal the online platforms that accounted for the highest number of fraud cases where a source of origin was recorded; these are:

  • Facebook - where fake profiles led to over a third (35%) of all fraud cases.

  • This is followed by almost a quarter (24%) on Tinder, over a fifth (21%) on Plenty of Fish and almost one in 10 (9%) from Match.com.

  • The following platforms all account for three percent of cases in which the platform was recorded: Olderdating.com; Bumble and Instagram.

All age groups are vulnerable to romance fraud – as TSB refunded victims ranging from 18-year olds, to a 77 year-old. However, the average age of victims is 47.

Fraudsters cashing in from numerous payments

Repeat transactions within romance fraud ‘relationships’ continue to be a core component of these scams across the banking sector. UK Finance4 figures show that at least eight payments are made on average by victims.

TSB has calculated the number of days these ‘relationships’ last by analysing its own data relating to the first and last payments made by victims to fraudsters.

On average, ‘relationships’ lasted for 62 days. TSB also found the longest ‘relationship’ spanned over 1059 days – almost three years.

In almost a third (32%) of cases, payments were made to fraudsters for periods lasting over two weeks before the victim uncovered the scam. Over a quarter (27%) of relationships saw payments spanning over a month, while more than one in 10 (11%) lasted over half a year.

Sam, said: “On some occasions, the longer these ‘relationships’ last, the more the victim wants it to work and finds it hard saying ‘no.’ The key is to pull the plug as soon as you start noticing signs that it’s a scammer you’re speaking with.”

Fraudsters often pose as naval officers/overseas doctors/soldiers/people working on oil rigs to both appear within a respected, recognised role – and to account for their absence. Their approach is often underpinned by an emotive story, and longing to get back home, with funds from their victim helping them edge closer to being together.

Sam added: “Fraudsters concoct stories to elicit feelings of sympathy, pride, and trust; emotions that will lead the victim to feel this person they’ve never met is being faithful, honourable, a hero even, and in need of help. Therefore, the victims of such fraud are often compassionate and altruistic people – likely to give to charity and willing to help people, but in this case, they are helping the wrong people by accident.”

Vital support for victims & action needed

Latest UK Finance figures show that 35 percent5 of funds lost to romance fraud were returned to victims. In contrast, TSB has refunded 97 percent of all bank fraud cases under its Fraud Refund Guarantee – with the Bank supporting victims through this devastating crime.

TSB wants to see much stronger action from online platforms to better protect their users from fake profiles - with the likes of Facebook and Instagram taking much more responsibility for the fraud their sites generate.

Paul Davis, Director of Fraud Prevention, TSB, said:

“Dating sites and social media can be a great way of meeting people and staying connected during the pandemic – but they’re also riddled with scammers, hoping to break your heart and your bank balance with cruel and complex tricks.

"When interacting online, it’s important to remain on guard. Don’t put your trust in people you’ve never met in person – and if the conversation ever moves on to money, then it’s time to stop.”

Advice on Romance Fraud from TSB’s Director of Fraud Prevention, Paul Davis:

  • Dating sites can be a great way to meet people – but remain suspicious and don’t give personal information away to someone you’ve never met in person.

  • Discussing relationships can be embarrassing – but it can make all the difference when it comes to fraud. Get friendly, impartial advice about your online connection from someone close by, who can help you spot holes in a dating site user’s story that you hadn’t thought of yourself.

  • If the conversation turns to money, then it’s time to stop.

  • Fraudsters concoct elaborate and emotive stories to lure people in; so be suspicious of people accounting for their absence or trying to paint an intricate picture of their working life.

  • Take your time. No matter how good the individual sounds online, it could all be false – don’t get caught up in a story you can’t validate.

     

Notes to editors

1 All TSB data covers the period December 2020 – January 2022

2 TSB's data on the online platforms where romance fraud started relates strictly to cases when the platform was recorded by the victim and case handler. A significant number of cases did not include a platform of origin.

3 Source: UK Finance: Fraud the Facts publications. Figures show in H1 2019, £7.9m was lost to romance fraud; compared to £15.1m in H1, 2021.

4 Source: UK Finance: Fraud the Facts, H1 2021. Figures show 14,005 payments were made across 1,624 cases to leave an average transaction rate of 8.6 transactions per case.

5 Source: UK Finance: Fraud the Facts, H1 2021, Figures show that of the £15.1m lost to romance fraud, £5.3m was subsequently returned to customers – leaving a refund/return rate of 35 percent.

TSB customer case study notes

One such case saw a customer convinced she was talking to a soldier stuck in Libya. The conversations were romantic in nature with the fraudster claiming he needed the money to get home for Christmas. Overall, the customer sent six payments amounting to £1,200 and realised she had been scammed just four days before Christmas.

Another case lasted almost two years after a female customer was approached on Instagram and carried on conversing via Whatsapp. All the while, the fraudster shared increasingly emotive stories to support his need for cash, including police bail, hotel fees and flights. Overall, the female victim made 36 payments ranging from £2. to £7,000, amounting to £40,000, which was refunded in full.

Read more about Sam Owen, here: Relationship Coach | Sam Owen (relationshipscoach.co.uk)

Further comments from psychologist, Sam Owen

Sam comments on high rate of female victims:

“As people enter their late thirties, there is increased societal pressure to settle down, as more and more around them do so. This is particularly true for women. These pressures can make people more vulnerable to romance scams, as they start ignoring red flags in the hopes of finding that special someone, but you’re always better off knowing someone is a time-waster, sooner than later. And don’t worry; there are plenty of single people out there in their thirties upwards; it’s 2022, not 1902. Times have changed.”

On the importance of victims receiving refunds, Sam said:

“Given people usually like to think of themselves as fairly sensible, and social and dating platforms take their safety policy very seriously by providing advice on fraud, it’s understandable that many feel an overwhelming sense of embarrassment and hurt when they realise they’ve fallen for a romance scam. Consequently, victims find it difficult to confide in family and friends and might not try to get money back from their bank.

“Refunds from banks are so crucial – they help remove the stigma by highlighting that this can happen to anyone from any online connection with a stranger, thus allowing victims to feel able to speak out and importantly, helping them to get their financial lives back on track again.”

Sam analyses the psychology behind repeat transactions

“These scammers quickly develop trust with the unsuspecting and proceed to tug at the heart strings of their victim with a story enveloped in emotions to lure them in as they proceed to suggest commitment to the victim and increase the legitimacy of their financial requests. On some occasions, the longer these ‘relationships’ last, the more the victim wants it to work and finds it hard saying ‘no.’ The key is to pull the plug as soon as you start noticing signs that it’s a scammer you’re speaking with.”

Media Contacts

TSB Media Relations

Matthew Hepburn matthew.hepburn@tsb.co.uk / 07483 431 309