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Mother of two scammed out of £80,000 by armed forces romance scam

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The UK is seeing an increase in authorised payment
romance scams costing victims tens of thousands of pounds.

According to UK Finance, two-fifths of online daters in 2021 were asked for money by someone they were speaking to and, of those, over half (57%) actually went through with the request. Unfortunately, this leaves daters vulnerable to scammers and in particular Authorised Push Payment fraud, a form of social engineering used to trick victims into authorising payments to accounts within the criminal’s control.

Since the pandemic, reports of ‘romance scams’ – where a fraudster approaches and forms a ‘relationship’ with an individual online in order to convince them to send money or give access to accounts – have continued to rise. According to the UK Finance 2022 Half-Year Fraud Report, reports of romance scams increased by over 31 per cent in the first half of the year.

Often, once money has been transferred to the fraudsters as part of a romance scam it can be very difficult for banks to recover as the criminals will typically move the money on again to an overseas account, leaving nothing to be recovered. But banks are bound by a number of regulations and codes aimed at providing protections and safeguards for customers to prevent this sort of fraud and there are still avenues for securing compensation.

The Sun newspaper recently reported on one such case in which an online dater was defrauded out of substantial amounts of money, and damaged personal relationships, by a scammer posing as a prospective romantic partner.

Married mother of two, Sharon, was added on Facebook by a scammer posing as a widowed US soldier serving in Syria. After a whirlwind three months of speaking to the soldier, Sharon left her husband of 29 years, and the pair started a ‘relationship’. Sharon started to send ‘Murphy’ money for emergencies such as medical treatment and flights, starting gradually at first but then increasing in frequency up to weekly payments, totalling over £80,000.

Despite a number of red flags including falsified medical statements and ‘lost tickets’ that cost Sharon up to £15,000, it wasn’t until she called the US Army, and they confirmed there was no-one serving under the name of the fraudster, that she realised she was the victim of a romance scam. So far, Sharon has been unable to recover any of the money she sent to ‘Murphy’.

With romance scams on the rise, it is important to be aware of the warning signs of a scam, particularly if you are using online dating.

Some top tips include:

  • Check-in with family and friends for advice and shared experiences, they may be able to provide an independent and unbiased view and spot the signs of a romance scam.
  • Treat requests for money from people you have never met in real life with suspicion.
  • Do your own due diligence: use the internet to reverse search profile pictures and research common ‘back stories’, often the scammers have lifted both their photo and their histories from Google and/or other people’s social media.
  • Check that your privacy settings on social media and any dating apps are sufficient to safeguard you from scams, and make sure not to post personal information online.
  • Don’t be embarrassed – and report any suspected fraud to Action Fraud, the Police and your bank immediately.

Fraud victims can feel embarrassed, wondering how they didn’t realise they were being scammed. It is important to contact the police and your bank to report the crime. You can also report any suspected scamming activity to Action Fraud, the National Fraud and Cyber Crime Reporting Centre. If you have lost money, that may lead to a criminal investigation by the police.

If you have reported the scam to the police and there is a successful criminal prosecution, you may be awarded compensation by the Court, however, this requires tracing the fraudster which can prove difficult as the money is often swiftly moved on after the fraud.

In addition, banks have a duty of care to clients to ensure that there are sufficient protections and safeguards in place to prevent fraud, and many customers are unaware of this. Such protections include:

  • Regularly monitoring accounts and transactions for signs of fraud, scams, and money laundering.
  • Implementing systems to identify, delay and/or block suspicious transactions that may indicate fraud.
  • Following the City watchdog Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) guidance on how to protect consumers from fraud.

Where there is a dispute between the bank and a victim of APP fraud, the victim can lodge a complaint with the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), an independent Government-backed organisation that investigates complaints between consumers and businesses that provide financial services, such as banks.

The FOS is increasingly ruling in favour of scam victims, concluding that banks have not carried out their safeguarding duties sufficiently, and in turn, have awarded considerable levels of compensation to customers.

Sarah Spruce, Head of the APP fraud team at TLW Solicitors comments:

“Victims of romance scams often feel embarrassed or ashamed to come forward and report the fraud, but with the increase in this type of fraud it is clear that they are not alone, and it is important for them to understand that help is out there, even if they think ‘nothing can be done’ or ‘it was all my fault’.

Banks have a duty of care to their customers and encouragingly FOS is increasingly deciding in favour of scam victims where there is evidence that the banks haven’t done enough to protect their customers’ accounts.”

The specialist Romance Scam team at TLW Solicitors has many years of experience in successfully dealing with claims against FOS, even where initial complaints have been rejected.

We understand the time limits to be followed, the information needed and the claims and appeals processes. The team will also deal with any complex legal arguments and defences that the bank may raise. The combination of our experienced team and digital case management systems means that we proactively pursue your claim and aim to get the best possible results.

It will cost you nothing to make an enquiry and once our team has reviewed your potential case and if we feel it suitable, then we will enter into a no-win-no-fee agreement. This means, that if the case is unsuccessful, we will not charge for the time we have spent on the case.

For a confidential, ‘no-obligation’ conversation, call us on 0800 169 5925, email info@tlwsolicitors.co.uk or complete the call-back form.

It is important to get advice as soon as possible as strict time limits can apply.

Meet Our Team

Meet Sarah, who heads up our experienced Romance Scam Claims team.

Sarah and her colleagues are on hand to help with your claim.

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