After Thomas received a message request from someone on social media, he thought she was “beautiful, funny and kind”, and they spoke every day over several months.
“Looking back now, I can’t believe how easy it was for her to take advantage of me. I had no idea she was tricking me into giving out my personal details so she could get money,” he said.
Thomas, an HSBC customer, was being scammed and his personal details were used to apply for payday loans. Thankfully, bank staff acted quickly to help get the matter resolved.
But he added: “I have now shut down my social media account.”
Trade association UK Finance said £7.9 million was lost to romance scams in the first half of 2019, a 50% increase on the previous year.
Here’s how to spot a dating scam…
What is a romance scam?
It’s a cruel con where people are manipulated into thinking they are in a relationship with fraudsters who steal their money.
Typically, people are approached on dating apps such as Tinder by someone using a fake profile with a photo that’s been copied from elsewhere. Criminals will try to establish a rapport quickly, asking lots of personal questions. They may make excuses for why they cannot meet up, but will try to move the conversation off a dating website and on to instant messaging or texts instead.
How do fraudsters persuade people to hand over their cash?
They invent a sob story, claiming their money has been stolen or they are ill and need cash to pay for treatment.
They may also claim they are in line for a windfall and if their victim “loans” them money there will be bigger rewards later. They may also try to put their victim off talking to friends and family, in case they talk them out of handing over cash. UK Finance found that, whether it turned out to be a con or not, a fifth (21%) of online daters had either been asked for money or had given cash to someone they met online.
Men (26%) were more likely to be asked for money than women (15%), and the average amount requested or given was £321.
Also, 27% of online daters have been “catfished” – contacted by someone using a fake profile – in the past 12 months Men were more likely to say they’d been catfished (33%) than women (20%).
Can victims get their money back?
It may depend on individual circumstances and who you bank with. People who authorise bank transfers to a scammer may find they lose their money for good. But many banks have signed up to a voluntary industry reimbursement code to make it easier for victims to get money back where neither they nor their bank is at fault.
TSB also has its own fraud refund guarantee, which protects customers who are innocent fraud victims.
How can you avoid romance fraud?
Do not give out any personal information and be wary, particularly asked to send money. Talk to someone close such as a family member or a friend, or speak to bank staff. Photos can give clues. If you search an image and it’s linked to multiple profiles, it may indicate it’s not genuine.
Fraudsters thrive on rushing victims. Relax and take five minutes to think.
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