Romance scams are on the rise as fraudsters target people looking to make a connection online in the throes of the pandemic.
According to new data from UK Finance, the number of romance fraud bank transfers rose by 20% between January-November 2020, compared to the previous year.
In the lead-up to Valentine's Day, the banking body called on people to look out for friends and family who may be vulnerable and seek advice before sending money to anyone from a dating app.
Romance scams work by fraudsters exploiting their victims' trust and convincing them they are in a genuine relationship, despite never having met in person.
After going to great lengths to groom their victim, the scammer will request money or gifts, often framing their request around a heart-rending story in order to try and profit from the victim's urge to help.
In 2020, each romance scam victim lost just under £8000 to the fraudster.
Over the course of last year, the total value of such transactions reached £18.5 million - a 12% year-on-year increase.
Head of Action Fraud, Pauline Smith, believes multiple lockdowns have left many people feeling lonely and isolated, and maybe partly to blame for the uptick in this type of crime:
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.
According to the Online Dating Association, 64% of people who use dating apps see them as a 'lifeline' for people living alone.
Yet it is vitally important that people stay in touch with friends and family in order to protect themselves online- despite social distancing measures making this more difficult than usual.
Anyone trying to use a social media or dating service to con money out of others will want to get them away from those who are their nearest and dearest…friends and family who might be able to see risk and offer words of caution as well as ones of encouragement.said Chief Executive of the Online Dating Association, George Kidd.
According to UK Finance, the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from a romance scam are to learn how to spot the red flags.
The banking body warned that being overly secretive or making excuses for why an online partner has never made a video-call could both be signs of a romance scam, where a fraudster is trying to isolate their victim and hide their true identity.
Manipulative tactics could also leave victims with extreme feelings of commitment towards someone they have only just met online.
To help stay safe, the body advised users and their loved ones to speak to family and friends about new relationships and do their homework on the potential partner.
In many cases, scammers use fake profile photos or create entire online identities by using pictures that belong to someone else.
By carrying out a reverse image search, users can find out when and where an image has first been uploaded to the internet and see if it has been lifted from another person's profile.
Most importantly, the UK Finance warned people against sending money, gift cards, or parcels to anyone you have not met in person. They also stressed the importance of not sharing bank, loan, or credit card details:
If you think you have been a victim of a romance scam, do not feel ashamed or embarrassed - you are not alone. Contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or via actionfraud.police.uk. If you are in Scotland, please report to Police Scotland directly by calling 101.
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