Romance fraud happens when someone believes they have met their perfect match through an online dating site or app, but the other person is in fact a scammer using a fake profile to build the relationship.
They slowly gain your trust with a view to eventually asking you for money or obtaining enough personal details to steal your identity. This type of scam is especially insidious because the scammer is manipulating and abusing the victim’s emotions. It plays on the need we all have for love and companionship and many people fall victim every year.
“My son was taken in on a dating site. Luckily no money changed hands even though he was asked. This experience made my son suicidal and made it difficult for him for a few months. He is bipolar and autistic so my husband and I had to take the consequences of his reaction to this crime.” Neighbourhood Watch member during a recent awareness campaign.
Spot the signs
People who have fallen victim to romance scams tend to report the same pattern. If someone you know is using online dating or friendship sites and reports any of these signs, it may indicate they are being scammed:
• Generally the scam starts with an initial contact by the scammer. The scammer may be a member of the same online dating site as you or any online forum you have joined. The scammer may also contact you on social media such as Facebook – this is why you should never accept friend requests from people you don’t know.
• Their profile picture is very attractive. It’s common for scammers to use stolen photographs of beautiful people. You can check whether someone’s profile picture is associated with anyone else by accessing the website in Google Chrome, right-clicking on the picture and then clicking ‘Search Google for image’. Google will then display any other websites that the image is on. If the person has a different name on other websites, chances are they are tricking you.
• The scammer asks you a lot of questions about yourself. This is because the more information they know about you, the easier you will be to manipulate. The scammer will spin a tale about him or herself as well. Eventually you begin speaking over the phone. This stage can last for weeks, even months.
• The discussion is friendly at first, but turns romantic very quickly. They shower you with compliments and claim to be falling in love with you. Victims usually report that this shift occurs very early on in the relationship – so if it all seems to be happening too fast, it might very well be a scam.
• Their story, or parts of it, change over time. If someone is making up their life story, it can be easy to forget what they’ve said before. If some part of their story doesn’t sound quite right, or match what they said last month, that could indicate they are lying.
• Their grammar and spelling is poor. Many scams originate overseas. If the scammer tells you they’re from the UK, but writes as if English is not their first language, this should be a red flag.
• They refuse to Skype or video call you, or meet in person. They always find an excuse as to why they can’t do this.
• Eventually the scammer asks you to lend them money. They use any number of reasons: to pay for the flight or other transport to meet you; they are in some sort of trouble; to pay for medical care, either for themselves or someone close to them; or they have a great business or investment opportunity that could benefit you both.
Don’t be a scam victim
Just because there are some dishonest people out there doesn’t mean you have to stop using dating sites altogether. You just have to be aware that scammers do exist, and follow some simple rules to protect yourself online:
• If you’re using social media sites like Facebook, don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know.
• Don’t give away too many personal details about yourself online. Revealing your full name, date of birth and home address could lead to your identity being stolen.
• NEVER send or receive money or give away your bank details to someone you’ve only met online.
• Use reputable dating sites and keep communicating through their messaging service. Fraudsters will want you to quickly switch to text, social media or telephone so there is no evidence on the dating site of them asking you for money.
What to do if you’ve been scammed? If you’ve fallen victim, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Scammers count on this fear because your knowledge is power.
Informed consumers are much harder to deceive. If you tell your story to other people, you may prevent someone else from being victimised in the same way. You can report romance scams to Action Fraud at actionfraud.police.uk, or call 0300 123 2040.
If the scam occurred on an online dating site or some other online forum, you should also report the individual’s username to the site moderators, who can take steps to prevent the scammer from targeting anyone else using the same website.