Romance Fraud Losses Increased by 91% During COVID-19

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Romance fraud losses surged by 91% during COVID-19 compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to new research from TSB.

The bank said it had observed cases of romance fraud double in the pandemic as a result of the shift to online dating amid social distance restrictions. It also found that the average financial loss per victim over this period was an eye-watering £6100.

Interactions that originated on Facebook accounted for the highest number of fraud cases, at 35%. This was followed by the dating sites Tinder (24%), Plenty of Fish (21%) and (9%).

TSB also calculated the length of these virtual ‘relationships’ by analyzing its own data relating to victims' first and last payments to fraudsters. These lasted for an average of 62 days, with the longest one spanning nearly three years. In almost a third (32%) of cases, victims transferred money to the fraudsters for periods lasting over two weeks before realizing the scam. In 27% of cases, payments lasted over a month, and 11% continued over half a year.

Interestingly, women made up two-thirds (66%) of TSB’s cases and suffered significantly higher financial losses on average than men (£6300 vs. £4600).

While all age groups were shown to be vulnerable to this type of fraud, the average age of the victims was 47.

Commenting on the findings, relationship coach and psychologist Sam Owen noted: “The past two years left people craving human connection, especially if they’d been living alone and feeling lonely while the rest of the world seemed coupled-up. Sadly, it was the perfect storm that would inevitably result in a significant increase in digital fraud cases.”

Paul Davis, director of fraud prevention at TSB, advised online dating users: “Dating sites and social media can be a great way of meeting people and staying connected during the pandemic – but they’re also riddled with scammers, hoping to break your heart and your bank balance with cruel and complex tricks.

"When interacting online, it’s important to remain on guard. Don’t put your trust in people you’ve never met in person – and if the conversation ever moves on to money, then it’s time to stop.”

Last month, the UK’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) reported that total financial losses from romance fraud over the year (November 2020 to October 2021) stood at a staggering £92m.

Discussing the new research, Jake Moore, global cyber security advisor at ESET said: “People are often too quick to judge others who have fallen victims to these attacks but the truth is that these scam artists are very good manipulators and extremely skilful in their craft. Catfishing is very difficult to spot initially, especially when the victim is caught up in the initial attraction on a platform where relationships are common. However, it is vital that online daters are equipped with the knowledge of how to spot a scam. It often isn’t as easy as just saying ‘do not send money to someone you haven’t met’ as these scam artists are very good storytellers and often make the situation very authentic with phone and video calls.

"I would advise anyone to reverse image search the profile picture and look for their profile on other social networks. I would also recommend you try to meet in person before handing over any sensitive information or money. It is a good idea to speak with friends about anyone you are in contact with as it is usually a third person who initially realises a potential scam occurring.”

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