As astonishing as it sounds, Brits looking for love were scammed out of £41 million in 2017 as a result of so-called romance scams. According to Action Fraud, there were nearly 3,600 of these scams, meaning each victim lost on average a whopping £11,500. But the likelihood is that the number is far higher, with many victims being too embarrassed to report these crimes.
What is a romance scam?
This is when a criminal creates a fake identity to start a relationship with a victim with the intent to steal either their money or personal information. These scammers lower victims' defences by building an online relationship, then asking for money for a variety of reasons, such as illness.
Be wary of romance scams
No one is too smart to be scammed and anyone can be a victim. But by following a few simple rules, you can protect yourself:
Be wary about giving out your personal information – especially to people you met on a website or chat room.
Don’t be fooled by glamourous photos that are designed to entice you and gain your trust. You don’t know if the person you’re speaking to is really that person.
Remember – scammers will often make conversation to draw information from you, but rarely give you any information about them that can be easily checked or verified.
Don’t be steered away from communicating outside of a legitimate dating website that might be monitored by staff. Their preference is to communicate via email, text and even phone – rather than the site or app where you met.
Don’t believe someone if they say they have an ill relative or if they’re stranded abroad. These are scams.
Never send money to anyone you’ve never met before.
Never keep your online relationship secret. By doing so, you're making it more difficult for family and friends to spot the scammer.
A great resource for learning all about scams and how to avoid them is the "Little Book of Big Scams" by the Met Police.
What to do if you think you're a victim
Contact your bank immediately because they may be able to stop the transaction from leaving your account. Or if it's already left, your bank may be able to contact the scammer's bank to freeze the account on their end. Time is of the essence and the quicker you act, the higher the chance of you being able to recover your money. You should also contact Action Fraud to report the scam and they’ll give you a police crime reference number. Bear in mind that Action Fraud is not an emergency service, so dial 999 if you feel you are in immediate danger.
Remember - don’t be embarrassed to report a scam. By reporting, you are sharing information with Action Fraud to help them track down and identify these cruel criminals who manipulate and take advantage of people who are searching for love.