‘Ruthless’ criminals using romance scams to con £8,000 from victims on average
Romance scammers are increasingly taking advantage of social media and dating apps.
Finding love might be a costly endeavour as the number of people falling victim to romance scams increased by more than 30% last year.
The average amount lost by each victim was £8,234 according to figures from Lloyds Bank, which said men were slightly more likely than women to fall victim to a romance scam, making up around 53% of all cases.
Social media and dating apps have increasingly played into the hands of romance scammers in recent years, who can easily pretend to be someone else in their profile, using fake information and photos.
Liz Ziegler, fraud prevention director at Lloyds Bank, said: “The convincing lies told by fraudsters mean that while romance scam victims think they are falling in love, they’re actually falling for a scam. As well as losing thousands of pounds they also have to deal with this emotional betrayal.
Read more: Surge in ‘advance fee’ scams costing victims £711 on average
“The sad truth is there was never any genuine connection, with criminals ruthlessly targeting multiple victims at the same time, and disappearing with the money as soon as they get found out.
“While online dating should be a fun and empowering experience, it’s vital that people are able to spot the warning signs, to keep both themselves and their loved ones safe.
Those aged between 65 and 74 were the most likely to be tricked into sending money to a fraudster masquerading as a romantic partner, with the number of cases amongst this age group rising by almost 75% year-on-year. The average amount they lost was just over £12,000.
In a real-life example of someone who got scammed, Mary joined a Facebook group for fans of a popular film. Not long after she’d joined, Mary received a private message from another member of the group, called Bill.
They chatted on Facebook Messenger for a while, until Bill convinced Mary to move the conversation to WhatsApp, where their conversations became less about the film and more about their personal lives.
Bill and Mary were in contact daily, exchanging dozens of messages and the occasional phone call – although never any video calls. Bill sent Mary photos of himself in different places, and some with a person he said was his daughter.
After a time, Bill told Mary his bank account had been blocked, and he had no access to money. Bill sent Mary photos of apparent bank statements, showing £1m was pending release, and others showing large savings balances.
Mary agreed to help out, by buying gift cards and sending small amounts of money. Then, she got a message from Bill saying his daughter had been taken ill, with a blood transfusion and kidney transplant required.
Read more: Scam adverts still rife on Facebook and Instagram
Bill sent photos showing his daughter lying in a hospital bed and Mary received a message from a person who said they were the doctor responsible for Bill’s daughter’s care.
Bill said he too was a doctor, but was currently in Syria, where he’d been deployed as part of his role in the US Army. Bill told Mary his daughter’s hospital bills needed to be paid and asked whether she could help, promising to refund her when his funds were released.
Mary agreed to help and was told to send the money to a lady named Sheila, who allegedly worked in the administration department of a Turkish hospital. Bill told Mary this was because the hospital had a UK bank account and would be able to facilitate the payments. Mary sent some money to Sheila, but then told Bill she couldn’t afford to send any more.
At this point, Bill suggested Mary take out a loan. Mary was nervous about this and mentioned it to a family member – and it was at this point the scam became apparent. No loan was taken out and Mary’s daughter-in-law managed to convince Mary that she had been the victim of a romance scam from the start. Mary’s total loss was £14,500.
Ziegler said: “If you’ve started an online relationship and the discussion turns to money – regardless of the reason or the amounts involved – then alarm bells should be ringing.
“Never send money to people you’ve never met in person, no matter how much you’ve spoken online. Talking to a real-life friend or family member can be a good way to sense check what’s going on.”
Watch: Dating scams are on the rise, officials warn
Download the Yahoo Finance app, available for Apple and Android.