Romance Fraud Surges in Lockdown Following Shift to Online Dating

Bank transfer romance fraud rose 20% year-on-year between January and November 2020, according to new figures from UK Finance.

Published shortly before this year’s Valentine’s Day, the trade association revealed that the total value of this type of scam – in which victims are duped into sending money to criminals who have convinced them they are in a genuine relationship – has increased by 12% to £18.5m.

In addition, the UK’s national fraud and cybercrime reporting center, Action Fraud, said it has received a rise in reports from the general public who have fallen victim to romance fraud last year, with total reported losses in excess of £68m. As well as bank transfers, other ways of losing money included sending fraudsters gift cards, vouchers and presents, and providing them with access to their bank account or card.

This rise in romance scams is linked to the growing number of people who have turned to online dating amid ongoing social distancing restrictions during COVID-19. For instance, the Online Dating Association (ODA) has estimated that over 2.3 million Brits used dating apps during the first lockdown. This has provided more opportunities for cyber-criminals to launch scams, often manipulating people they pretend to have a romantic interest in by playing on their emotions, such as claiming they need money for emergency medical care.

The ODA also observed that over half of people in its survey are having longer conversations on dating sites during lockdown, enabling scammers more opportunities to build a relationship with victims over time.

Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, explained: “With the rising use of online dating service users during lockdown, criminals are using clever tactics to exploit people who think they’ve met their perfect partner online.

“Romance scams can leave customers out of love and out of pocket, but there are steps people can take to keep themselves or their family and friends safe - both on and offline. People can help their loved ones spot the signs of a scam, particularly as romance scammers can be very convincing by forming an emotional attachment with their victims.”

Pauline Smith, head of Action Fraud, commented: “Last year, we sadly saw criminals exploit the coronavirus pandemic as a means to commit fraud, and romance fraud was no exception. The national lockdowns, and other restrictions on our social lives implemented because of the coronavirus outbreak, have meant more people have been seeking companionship online and this has undoubtedly affected the number of reports we have seen.

“It’s important to say that most online dating sites, social media sites and gaming apps are perfectly safe. However, any online platform that allows you to connect with and talk to other people could be targeted by romance fraudsters, so it’s important to remain vigilant.”

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