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“Head over heels”: Victim of ‘Gaslighting’ Romance Scam Loses £120,000

APP Fraud

Linda told the BBC how a romance scammer used manipulation to
convince her to keep sending him money.

According to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), romance scams, where criminals target victims on dating apps and social media sites to get close to them and convince them to send (sometimes substantial) amounts of money, have cost victims over £90 million in the past financial year.

The NFIB sits alongside Action Fraud, the national fraud and cybercrime reporting centre, within the City of London Police and receives all of Action Fraud’s scam reports. In the 2022/23 financial year, the NFIB received over 8,000 reports of romance scams, with the average loss totalling £11,500.

Romance scams are a type of online fraud where scammers create fake profiles and develop relationships with their victims for the sole purpose of stealing their money. Romance scammers are highly sophisticated criminals and will use a combination of manipulation and flattery to convince victims to part with their hard-earned cash.

These scammers use fake names, convincing backstories, legitimate looking official documents (such as passports) and photos to create believable personas; they may claim to be from a different country or working in a dangerous profession, such as the military or oil industry. Once they have gained their victim’s trust, the scammers will start asking for money to help with ‘urgent’ circumstances such as medical bills, travel expenses, debts or business investments.

Romance scams can be tough to detect, as the scammers are often very skilled at manipulating their victims; however, there are some red flags to look out for, such as:

  • The person moves very quickly to profess their love for you – ‘love bombing’.
  • They are vague about their personal life or job.
  • They are always asking for money.
  • In an attempt to get you to send you your identity documents, they will send you theirs, such as a birth certificate, driving licence or passport, in turn building credibility.
  • They refuse to meet in person or via video chat.

If you suspect that you or someone you know is being scammed, it is important to act quickly. Stop communicating with the person immediately and report the scam to the authorities.

We recently outlined the hallmarks of a romance scam in our blog.

Romance scam victim Linda spoke to the BBC about her experience with a scammer in which she was convinced to transfer a total of $150,000 (£120,000) over a period of six months.

Linda, who was looking for love following the end of her 24-year marriage, connected with a man on a dating website for over 50s, bonding over their ‘shared’ love of dogs. She fell “head over heels” with the man on the other side of the screen, and the pair were soon planning their life together – or so she thought. As part of the ruse, the scammer convinced Linda to send a total of £120,000, claiming he was using it to invest for their ‘future’.

Despite some concerns that it wasn’t right to be sending money to someone she had never met, the scammer used ‘gaslighting’ techniques to emotionally manipulate Linda into cooperating; gaslighting is a type of coercive control used by another person to make their victim second guess themselves and eventually go along with that person’s wishes.

Tactics like gaslighting and manipulation often result in victims like Linda feeling reluctant to come forward and report the scam due to feeling ashamed or embarrassed that they fell for the scam; Linda told the BBC that it took her a “long time to work through the shame”. However, scams like this are incredibly common and affect a range of demographics; we have covered some similar stories on our blog.

The important thing to remember if you, a friend, or a family member have been targeted by a romance scammer and lost money is that there are avenues for compensation and losing the money is not the end of the road.

In cases such as Linda’s, the scam usually involves an element of Authorised Push Payment (APP) fraud, where the victim is convinced to willingly transfer money from their own bank account into the account of the scammer.

APP fraud usually involves manipulation, impersonation and, as in Linda’s case, gaslighting to get the victim into a state where they believe the transfer to be legitimate and authorise the payments with their bank willingly. Unfortunately, once the scam has been uncovered, the money has usually been moved on by the scammer – often overseas – and can be difficult, if not impossible, to recover.

While it may seem that this is the end of the road for recovering funds, there are options for accessing compensation.

The first thing any victim of a romance scam should do is report it to their bank and Action Fraud, the National Fraud and Cybercrime Reporting Centre. The bank should investigate the report internally; in some cases, this will be sufficient to recover any money lost.

Depending on the circumstances of the case, some banks, however, may take the view that the victim should be held responsible for the scam and refuse to reimburse; if this is the case, the claim can be escalated to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) for an independent investigation. You may believe that the bank could have done more to protect you and your money by detecting or preventing the scam. FOS is an independent, Government-backed service responsible for investigating and resolving disputes between financial services providers – such as banks – and their customers.

Recent FOS investigations have increasingly found that UK banks have failed in their responsibility to their customers to detect and prevent scams on their accounts, resulting in significant customer losses.

TLW Solicitors help victims of scams and fraud explore their compensation options. The team has a strong record in securing successful refund claims in victims’ favour.

 Sarah Spruce, Head of TLW Solicitors’ specialist APP fraud claims team said:

“Linda’s story is one we have heard many times from our own clients; they have been swept off their feet by someone they met online and, in the whirlwind of ‘romance’ and excitement, they haven’t realised they are being manipulated into transferring money to a scammer.

“These scams are far more common than you might think and, unfortunately, due to the emotional nature of the crime, victims are often reluctant to tell anyone about what has happened. I encourage anyone who has lost money to a romance scammer to get in touch with my team; we will listen to your story, we won’t judge and, hopefully, we can get you a positive conclusion to the story!”

Sometimes it helps to talk. If you, a loved one or someone you know 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 compensation claim.

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 work 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 info@tlwsolicitors.co.uk or complete either the make a claim online or call back forms below.

Getting advice as soon as possible is important as strict time limits can apply.
Minimum case values apply.

Meet Our Team

Meet Sarah, who heads up our experienced Authorised Push Payment Fraud Claims team.

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

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