Online dating is more popular than ever during the pandemic. Although apps such as Tinder and Bumble pose a risk of being targeted by scammers, lockdown has given fraudsters more ammunition and access to people who are lonely and vulnerable.
‘Romance Scams’ have increased significantly since the beginning of the pandemic. According to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, which sits alongside Action Fraud, victims were defrauded from approximately £68.2 million in 2020. The fraudsters typically target women in their forties, although all age groups and males are susceptible to scam artists.
Having open profile social media accounts can enable a scammer to hone in on those who are recently divorced or widowed. They often use social media to research their victim, once they have been identified they create false social media accounts for themselves and a long-term plan of action to gain trust. Remember, that this is a job to them and finding the right target via research is part of the preparation before attempting fraud.
There are a number of steps you can take if you meet someone online and the relationship is developing:
- Do your research – start from the premise that he or she may not be genuine. Many scammers pretend to be in the military as they have the perfect excuse not to give too many details. However, uniforms, regiments and small details can be checked out.
- Research their social media. Do they have a lot of friends or does their account seem relatively new?
- Research the facts that the person tells you – where they work, their career, family, knowledge of the local area if saying they are local.
- Do they want to talk about big commitments very quickly? Do they want to keep the relationship just between the two of you? These are all signs to be wary of
- Do they wish to meet up outside of lockdown or is there always an excuse not to? In some cases, they may pose as having a job overseas so they can’t always be contacted.
- Do they want to know everything about you? This could be a precursor to identity theft, you could easily give them the sensitive information that they need to steal your identity.
- Build up a picture of who they say they are.
- What is their attitude to money and wealth?
- Ask for lots of photographs. Are the photos consistent with what they are telling you? There is a reverse image search facility on Google that may help in identifying where those photos were actually taken.
- Speak to friends and relatives, check in to see whether they are worried that you are getting caught up in the romance, they may already be worried that you are being groomed.
- Finally, if they ask for money the alarm bells should ring. Excuses could range from a house purchase falling through and a child’s medical bills to elderly parents in trouble. Sit back and think. It may not be a large sum but it is a red flag that suggests that you should distance yourself from them.
The average amount lost to a romance scam was £7,850. Many victims may not report the financial loss, due to feeling guilty that they didn’t realise they were being duped. The police and action fraud do want the offences reported as without the intelligence and detail provided they will not be able to tackle this growing crime.
Many people find true lasting relationships via dating apps, but law enforcement is asking users to be mindful that not everyone you meet online is necessarily who they seem to be.