Unlock the Editor’s Digest for free
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Romance scams — in which fraudsters latch on to people looking for love — rose by over a fifth in 2023, underlining the growing appeal of this highly manipulative form of fraud to criminals.
Fraudsters often use fake social media pictures and profiles over a long periods to lure victims. They may make excuses for not being able to meet in person or show their face on camera, but will ask the victim for money under the pretence of needing it for family issues, bills or to travel to meet the victim.
According to trade body UK Finance, these scams can “cause psychological harm and lead to people losing their confidence, their trust, and their sense of security”.
Annual analysis of customer data by Lloyds Bank showed the number of overall cases jumped by 22 per cent on 2022.
Men were slightly more likely than women to fall victim to such scams, making up 52 per cent of cases. But women tend to lose more money: £9,083 on average, compared with £5,145 for men.
Those aged 55 to 64 are most likely to be hoodwinked by romance scammers, with the number of cases in this age group rising 49 per cent compared with 2022. People aged 65 to 74 tended to lose the most money, on average £13,123. However, the average amount stolen for all ages was £6,937, down 16 per cent from the 2022 average.
“Targeting those looking for love is a cruel, but sadly common, way for fraudsters to cash in,” said Liz Ziegler, fraud prevention director at Lloyds Bank. “Scammers can be incredibly convincing and leave their victims both emotionally and financially drained.”
The bank advises individuals to be wary of strangers reaching out over social media or displaying profile pictures that look professional or “model-like”. Seeking advice from friends and family is always a good idea and you should never send money to strangers online or give out personal or financial details.
Experts say this reflects a wider trend in authorised push payment (APP) fraud (which includes romance scams) where criminals are changing their tactics to focus on higher-volume, lower-value frauds after banks improved their ability to detect scams.
“With romance scams in particular, we often see victims making multiple smaller payments over the course of several months or even years,” said Kathryn Westmore, senior research fellow for financial crime at the Royal United Services Institute. “These smaller payments are less likely to be detected by banks than a bigger one-off payment would be.”
From October, victims of APP frauds will be able to claim a maximum of £415,000 from banks and other payment service providers.