Dating fraudsters have been preying on those looking for love during lockdown.
More than 600 reports of romance scams per month were made to Action Fraud during June, July and August, as heartless scammers tried to exploit victims’ desire for human contact.
Police forces and other organisations are running a campaign throughout October to raise awareness of romance fraud, following a 26 per cent increase in reports to Action Fraud in the past year.
And that figure may be even higher now that Scots who are targeted by crooks are urged to report incidents to Police Scotland via 101 and not directly to Action Fraud.
The average victim of romance fraud loses just over £10,000.
What is romance fraud?
Romance fraud, or dating fraud, occurs when people think they have met the perfect partner online but their “date” is using a fake profile to form a relationship. They gain the victim’s trust over weeks or months but the criminal’s end goal is to get the victim’s money or personal information.
They may come up with a sob story for why they urgently need money, try to steer their chats off the dating website, and be reluctant to meet up in person.
Diana Fawcett, chief executive of charity Victim Support, said: “Lockdown restrictions meant people could not meet in person for a number of months, which led to many seeking to form new connections online.
“Whilst using the internet can be a great way to meet people and form relationships, there’s also a great risk of being lured into a romance scam as fraudsters know how to take advantage of people’s desire for human contact.
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen that circumstances caused by coronavirus were in fact used by fraudsters as a ‘hook’ to extort money. For example, some have invented lies about needing medical treatment, or urgent travel expenses to leave a country, or funds to keep afloat after a bogus job loss caused by the pandemic.”
Since August 2019, the average number of reports made per month to Action Fraud about romance scams has been 400.
Losses reported by victims between August 2019 and August 2020 totalled £66,335,239.
Many online platforms have a reporting tool which people can use if they suspect someone is a scammer.
Reporting their user profile means it can be blocked, which also helps to protect others.
Justine Sacco, chief communications officer at Match Group, said: “We want all of the members of our community to feel safe on our apps and feel equipped to protect themselves from romance scams.”
UK Finance encourages anyone using dating apps to “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.”
Take Five is a national campaign led by UK Finance which offers straight-forward and impartial advice to help everyone protect themselves from preventable financial fraud.
Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign
Stop: Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.
Challenge: Could it be fake? It is OK to reject, refuse, or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.
Protect: Contact your bank immediately if you think you have fallen for a scam and report it to 101.
For more information on the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign, visit the website here.