Romance Fraud: Fall for the person not the profile
8 October 2020
The Covid-19 pandemic and resultant national and local lockdowns has in many instances increased feelings of isolation and loneliness, which in turn has led to more people using online sites to look for friendship and love. Meeting up for a casual drink or candle lit dinner has been replaced with messaging through dating apps/websites, social media or gaming sites. With a third of couples in the UK meeting online, a number that is set to increase, it is no surprise that romance fraud is on the rise.
Between August 2019 and August 2020, 6,613 reports of romance fraud were made to Action Fraud, a 26% increase on the previous year and the average loss per victim was just over £10,000.
Throughout October, police forces across the country are working together on a national campaign with partners like Match Group and City of London Police to tackle and raise awareness about romance fraud.
As part of the campaign, Match Group who own OK Cupid, Plenty of Fish, Tinder and Match.com, are running romance fraud protection adverts on these platforms, to inform their users how to spot the signs of a romance fraud and how to protect themselves online.
What is romance fraud?
Romance fraud also known as dating fraud occurs when you think you’ve met the perfect partner online but they are using a fake profile to form a relationship with you. You can meet them via an online dating website or app, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, or gaming sites.
They gain your trust over a number of weeks or months and have you believe you are in a loving and caring relationship but the fraudster’s end goal is only ever to get your money or personal information.
In almost every case, once the fraudster has gained your trust they will invent a variety of reasons, often with a degree of urgency, for which they need money.
The pandemic has, of course, provided the perfect storm not only in terms of an increase in those looking for love or friendship online but also fraudsters have been quick to recognise that in current times in which we live opens up a whole new world of possibilities reflected in the asks they are making of their victims.
For example some fraudsters have invented lies about needing medical treatment, or urgent travel expenses to leave a country, or funds to keep afloat after a bogus job loss caused by the pandemic. The list is endless and the only constraint is the imagination and invention of the fraudster!
Increasingly, we are also seeing instances where the victim is persuaded to transfer monies on behalf of the fraudster for a range of spurious reasons, again taking advantage of the grooming that has taken place. In effect the victim is cajoled into becoming a money mule in order to launder monies from criminal activity.
Who can become a victim?
The simple answer is that any one of us might become a victim in pursuance of friendship and love.
Often the fraudster will prey on those who, through a significant life event, might be more susceptible or transitionally vulnerable. Such events might be divorce or bereavement but what is certain, the fraudster will cynically take full advantage for their personal gain and, always at your expense!
Many victims feel embarrassed for falling for a scam – they shouldn’t - fraudsters are clever at what they do, it is after all their job and they are very good at it. Many will operate in organised gangs and their victims will be just another name on a blackboard in a room full of fraudsters all grooming their next victim and probably taking bets on who can scam the highest sums of money!
Protect yourself online
Many people find their perfect partner online and any advice is intended to help keep you from falling prey to a fraudster and is not intended to dissuade you from happily using online dating sites and, as importantly, having fun.
Those of us using social media sites have a tendency to overshare which is a golden nugget for a fraudster.
Once a fraudster has obtained enough information about you they will probably seek out your social media profile and use such information to help relate to your particular circumstances; interests; and even pretend to have visited the area where you live – all intended to make them look genuine and to empathise with you and your life.
How can you keep yourself safe when using dating sites?
Avoid giving away too many personal details.
- When speaking online to someone you’ve never met, don’t give away your full name, date of birth and home address as it can lead to your identity being stolen.
- Reverse engineer their profile picture using on-line tools – many fake profiles use legitimate pictures sourced from elsewhere on the internet without the knowledge of the person from whom they have stolen the images. You may find your fraudster’s image appears multiple times and with a variety of different names!
- Stay on the site’s messaging service until you meet in person. Fraudsters often want to switch quickly to other platforms that are less regulated and have better encryption such as WhatsApp. If the other person is genuine they will accept your decision to stay on the platform, in addition such platforms provide a degree of anonymity around your personal email address which makes it more difficult for the fraudster to engage with you outside of your time on the site.
- Be suspicious of a person who wants to keep your burgeoning online relationship a secret – never be afraid to speak with a relative or trusted friend – they might provide a different perspective.
- On social media, only accept friend requests from people you know and trust – Why would you do otherwise?
- Report suspicious behaviour. Most online platforms have a reporting tool which you can use if you suspect someone online is using pictures that don’t belong to them, you are suspicious of their behaviour, or they have asked you for money. Reporting their user profile means it can be blocked which helps protect others.
No matter how long you’ve been speaking to someone online and how much you trust them, if you haven’t met them in person do not:
- send them any money
- allow them access to your bank account
- transfer money on their behalf
- take a loan out for them
- provide copies of your personal documents such as passports or driving licenses
- invest your own money on their behalf or on their advice
- purchase and send the codes on gift cards from Amazon or iTunes
- Agree to receive and/or send parcels on their behalf (laptops, mobile phones etc.)
Where you think you have or are in the process of being scammed always -
Take a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.
Is this person really who they say they are?
Could it be fake? It’s ok to reject, refuse or ignore any requests for your financial or personal details. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.
Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve fallen for a scam and report it to Action Fraud on 0300 1232040 (.actionfraud.police.uk.) If you’re in Scotland, you can report to Police Scotland by calling 101.
If you follow this simple guidance you will have fun and an enjoyable time on dating sites and, who knows, find that perfect partner but always remember “Fall for the Person and not the Profile”
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