Love may be in the air, but romance scammers are also on the prowl, looking to exploit unsuspecting victims.
The latest figures from Lloyds Bank reveal that romance scams resulted in people losing approximately £6,937 each in 2023.
The banking giant said fraudsters frequently targeted men aged 55 to 64, while women and the elderly suffered the biggest financial losses.
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Separate data from Nationwide building society shows that romance scams with male victims rose 40% between 2022 and 2023, while the number involving women saw a small drop of 2%.
The rise of online dating apps and AI developments has made it easier for scammers to find potential victims.
They typically disguise themselves as people looking for genuine romantic connections and lure victims in.
But what is a romance scam and how do you keep your money safe as Valentine's Day approaches?
What does a romance scam look like?
Romance scammers usually create fake profiles online on social media and dating apps, such as Instagram, Facebook and Tinder.
They trick people into believing that they are in a relationship through false romantic gestures or words. After this, they normally begin asking for money claiming medical or family issues.
There is no limit on how long such scams can last, as it can be anywhere from a few weeks to months.
We look at how to differentiate between a genuine connection and a fraud, and a few things to be wary of.
How to avoid romance scams
What makes romance scams so dangerous is how fraudsters can control the victims’ emotions and make their feelings appear legitimate.
But sometimes, following your gut instinct can be the right thing to do in order to protect yourself.
Here are a few ways to save yourself some emotional and financial damage:
Be cautious of strangers on social media
Avoid accepting friend requests from people you don’t recognise. In the odd case that you do, make sure to thoroughly check their profiles before you begin a conversation.
Carry out a reverse image check
Sometimes, scammers tend to use attractive or stolen photos to create a fake identity. By doing a reverse image search on Google, you can verify if it’s an authentic person or a fake.
Sometimes, if the person seems as if they are too good to be true, it might just be right. A lot of times, scammers tend to stick to asking personal questions, instead of answering them. Try to get the most out of the other person and cross-check that information online, if possible. For example, a school they went to or a friend you have in common.
Never send money
If you’ve only met someone online and they ask you for money, they’re most likely to be a scammer. Don’t share any personal information such as your bank details or passwords that could be exploited.
Notice the tiny details
See if the person avoids showing their face on video calls or suggests meeting in person. It might be because they are catfishing or using someone else’s photos to trick you.
Report suspicious activity
If you suspect you are being targeted by a scammer, report the account or incident online. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Liz Ziegler, fraud prevention director at Lloyds Bank, said, “Social media and online dating apps are rife with fake profiles, and it can be hard to tell who is genuine.
“Remember that no good relationship starts off by sending money to someone you haven't met and this should be a big red flag.
"As soon as someone you’re talking to starts asking for money, step back from the situation and never hand anything over.”
What to do if you fall for a scam
If you have sent money to someone you now suspect to be a fraudster, the first thing to do is to speak to your bank, building society or credit card provider. You should do this as quickly as possible. They may be able to stop the payment or refund you the money.
It’s also a good idea to report scams ‒ whether you fall for them or not ‒ to Action Fraud. This is the national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre, which is run by the police.
Oojal has achieved a Master's degree in International Journalism from Cardiff University. She has written for several Newsquest dailies, Voice Wales, DIVA Magazine and Sony Music. Her work has revolved around covering critical social issues, such as the cost of living crisis, student poverty, industrial action, LGBTQIA+ issues and mental health. When she's not immersed in all things editorial, you can either find her walking around the streets of Cardiff, at Cineworld watching the latest film, or scrolling through cat reels wondering when she might bring one home.
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