The road to love never did run smoothly, and in an increasingly connected, online society, romance scammers are creating even more obstacles and ones that could cost victims thousands.
A romance scam is when a scammer develops a fake online relationship with an individual and builds trust with the aim of convincing the victim to send money and/or personal information.
These ‘relationships’ are often started online via dating apps such as Tinder, Hinge, and Bumble, social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram, and even via chat-enabled online games like Words with Friends. The fraudster, using a fake name, fake backstory and often images lifted from the internet, will gradually gain the victim’s trust, and establish an emotional connection over a period of weeks or months. The scammer will often provide fake documents to ‘prove’ their identity, such as a passport or driving licence.
Eventually, the victim will be asked to send money, usually for a time-sensitive, emergency situation, such as a bill for medical treatment, or to pay for travel to visit the victim. This is usually done via bank transfer, such as an Authorised Push Payment, where the victim willingly transfers money from their bank for what they believe is a legitimate purpose.
While anyone can become the victim of a romance scam, perpetrators typically target those over 40 who may be less ‘tech savvy’ and so less likely to spot the warning signs. They may also be more lonely and welcome the additional attention or ‘love-bombing’.
Often, scam victims’ loved ones, such as parents, siblings, children or friends, only become aware of what has happened after the money has already been lost, by which time the funds have likely been moved on by the scammer and can prove difficult or impossible to recover. This type of fraud has been made much easier for cybercriminals through the increased use of real-time payment schemes, which means once money has been transferred out of an account, there is no going back when the victim realises they have been defrauded.
Spotting the signs of a loved one falling victim to a potential ‘fauxmance’ and knowing who to turn to for advice could prove invaluable.
If you have a friend or family member who spends a lot of time online or on dating apps, it is vital to ensure that both you and they are aware of the warning signs of a romance scam. Sometimes, as their judgment is so clouded by the idea of the romance, the individual in the ‘relationship’ is unable or unwilling to spot any red flags, so they may need those around them to point them out.
Hallmarks of a typical romance scam include:
- Limited information and photos on the scammer’s online profile: often these have been lifted from the internet. A reverse image search on Google can sometimes help here.
- Refusal to video chat, or low-quality, blurry videos: if their profile pictures are fake, they will not want to be found out via video chat.
- Claiming to have a job that keeps them overseas or means that they cannot easily visit the victim, such as working in the military, offshore, being a busy entrepreneur or in the medical profession.
- ‘Love-bombing’ or intense flattery and declarations of love at an early stage: this is done to manipulate the victim and establish an emotional connection.
- Asking lots of questions but giving very little information about themselves: this is also done to manipulate the victim into believing there is a strong emotional connection.
- Early on in the relationship, by way of reassurance, the scammer will try to confirm their identity by providing documents such as a passport or driving licence – often asking for the victim’s in return.
- Asking for financial help via bank transfer or setting up a new bank account, loan or investment for an ‘emergency’ such as medical bills, family problems or travel expenses.
Unfortunately, often scammers will also encourage the victim to keep the relationship secret, or not tell friends and family about requests for help or money. Loved ones should stay vigilant and look out for any changes in behaviour in people they know are involved in online dating.
The first step to preventing the success of a scam is ensuring that you, your friends and loved ones are as safe as possible online.
“We’re calling on family members who think their relatives may be dating online to help make them aware of the warning signs that they could be falling victim to fraud, particularly if the person dating online is not, particularly tech-savvy” commented Temporary Detective Chief Superintendent Matt Bradford, from the City of London Police in the recent Action Fraud article.
There are precautions you can take to keep loved ones safe from fraud and prevent the likelihood of a successful scam:
- Speak to your friends and family about their internet use and help them to make sure they have the correct privacy settings set up on their social media accounts to stop strangers from accessing personal information.
- Keep in touch and up to date with those who might be online dating to spot any concerning changes in behaviour or activity, and let them know you won’t judge if they come to you with any worries about an online ‘relationship’.
- Make sure that any online daters you know are aware of the signs and red flags of a romance scam, such as ‘love bombing’ and refusal to meet up in person.
- Remind loved ones never to send money to someone they have not met in person.
- If a friend or loved one is unfortunate to become a victim of a romance scam, support them and encourage them to report to Action Fraud and the police and not to feel ashamed to do so.
Romance scam victims may feel embarrassed or ashamed and not want to come forward, so it is first important to reassure them that they are not alone and there is plenty of support available.
As soon as the fraud has been detected, the victim should contact their bank and Action Fraud to make a report. Banks are being encouraged to do more to detect and prevent Authorised Push Payment scams, such as romance scams, and should urgently start an investigation to try and recover the money from the receiving bank as soon as they are notified of any suspicious activity.
As experienced industry experts, banks have a responsibility to protect their customers and keep their money safe. They should have policies in place which allow them to delay or block payments that are out of character, to new payees, overseas or for large amounts.
However, if you or your loved one has lost out to a scam and feel that the bank did not do enough or has been unhelpful, you can take the case to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) to investigate and if appropriate award compensation. FOS is a Government-backed body that independently investigates and deals with complaints between financial institutions and their customers.
FOS is increasingly focussing on the duty of care that banks owe to vulnerable customers, including potential victims of romance scams. The Authorised Push Payment team at TLW Solicitors specialise in bringing FOS claims and can help fraud victims seek a refund.
Commenting on the Action Fraud article, Sarah Spruce, Head of the Authorised Push Payment team at TLW Solicitors said:
“Often in romance fraud cases, the individual being scammed either does not want to believe that anything is wrong or is too embarrassed or ashamed to come forward, so it is important that family members and friends support them and know where to turn for help.
I would encourage anyone, whether you’ve been the victim of a romance scam yourself, or you know a friend or family member who has been scammed, to get in touch. Our friendly, compassionate team can advise you about seeking a refund and help you through the process of making a claim for compensation.
Even if you know of a friend or relative that is involved in any form of online dating or relationships, don’t be afraid to give them a ‘reality check’ and remind them of the risks and warning signs of these types of scams.”
Sometimes it helps to talk. If you, a loved one or someone you know may be or have been the victim of a romance scam, our specialist team can give you the right resources and information on what options are available to you. If appropriate, we can help bring a claim for compensation.
We offer a free, no-obligation assessment of your case and will make a decision on whether to pursue your claim. If we take on your case, we operate on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis, meaning you do not pay us anything if your refund claim is unsuccessful.
You can call us on 0800 169 5925, email firstname.lastname@example.org or complete either the make a claim online or call back forms below.
It is important to get advice as soon as possible as strict time limits can apply.
Meet Sarah, who heads up our experienced Fraud and Scam Claims team.
Sarah and her colleagues are on hand to help with your claim.
“Even if you know of a friend or relative that is involved in any form of online dating or relationships, don’t be afraid to give them a ‘reality check’ and remind them of the risks and warning signs of these types of scams.”