The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) says that over £92m was lost last year, an average of £11,500 per victim, urging daters to recognise the signs and be vigilant online.
The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau is a unit within the City of London Police – the policing lead for economic crime in the UK. The NFIB is responsible for gathering and analysing intelligence related to fraud and financial cybercrime, such as romance scams.
According to a recent press release by the City of London Police, the NFIB received 8,036 reports from romance scam victims in the UK, with an average of £11,500 lost by each victim. Reassuringly, the number is a slight decrease compared to the previous year, but that doesn’t reduce the devastation for those affected.
Detective Superintendent Gary Miles from the City of London Police commented:
“Romance fraudsters rely on the kindness and compassionate nature within us all, where highly manipulative and coercive techniques are used to exploit this for their own gain. Romance fraud can result in people having their hard-earned savings wiped out, in tens of thousands of pounds in debt and also, in some extreme cases, having to remortgage their homes.”
As digital technology continues to make considerable strides in society and our day-to-day lives, it is no wonder that dating and finding a partner has moved online. While dating sites and apps open up a massive opportunity for singletons to meet ‘the one’ they also provide a huge opportunity to exploit these individuals and for scammers to get their hands on their money.
If you’re looking for love – or even just companionship – online, it is important to be mindful of the common red flags of a romance scam in order to keep you and your money safe. Typical signs of a romance scam include:
- A lack of details and photos on the scammer’s online profile, often taken from elsewhere; performing a reverse image search on Google might reveal the truth.
- A reluctance to video chat or sharing poor-quality, blurry videos. If their profile pictures are fake, they’ll try to avoid being exposed through video calls.
- Claims of being tied to a job that keeps them abroad or prevents easy visits, e.g. military service, offshore work, owning a business, or being a medical professional.
- ‘Love-bombing’ with excessive flattery and premature declarations of love, aiming to manipulate and quickly forge an emotional tie.
- Asking lots of personal questions but revealing little about themselves, they do this to try and create a strong emotional bond with the victim.
- Asking for financial aid through bank transfers or opening new accounts, loans, or investments under the guise of emergencies like medical bills, family troubles, or travel costs.
As the aim of most romance scammers is to convince the victim to transfer money directly to them, these scams involve an element of Authorised Push Payment (APP) fraud. APP fraud occurs when an individual willingly approves money transfers from their bank account to another for what they believe to be a legitimate reason, such as helping out a friend or romantic prospect.
As APP fraud relies on the faster payment systems in place by most banks, the money is moved instantaneously to the scammers’ account and then moved on before the victim realises that they’ve been scammed. Unfortunately, in these cases, it makes the money difficult – if not impossible – to recover.
If you, a friend, or a family member, discover that they have been the victim of a romance APP scam, it is crucial to promptly report the incident to both your bank and Action Fraud, the national reporting service for fraud. The bank should initiate an immediate investigation to recover funds from the receiving bank as soon as any suspicious activity is flagged, but this may not be possible.
Banks in the UK have the responsibility to safeguard their customers and their money. They should have policies in place which enable them to postpone or block unusual payments, especially those directed to new payees, overseas destinations, or involving substantial amounts.
In cases where a scam has resulted in losses, and the victim believes that their bank’s response was inadequate, individuals have the option to escalate the matter to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) for an independent investigation and, in some cases, compensation. FOS, a government-backed body, independently examines and resolves disputes between financial institutions and their customers.
We have covered top tips for keeping yourself safe from romance scams in our blogs, but in its press release, the City of London Police have also provided their recommendations to protect yourself and your money. The force says that no matter how long you’ve been speaking to your new ‘beau’ or how much you think you know them, if you have never met the individual you’re talking to in person you should never:
- Send them any money.
- Allow them access to your bank account.
- Transfer money on their behalf.
- Take a loan out for them.
- Provide copies of your personal documents such as passports or driving licenses.
- Invest your own money on their behalf or on their advice.
- Purchase and send the codes on gift cards.
- Agree to receive and/or send parcels on their behalf (laptops, mobile phones etc).
It is also essential to keep close family and friends informed of your online dating habits so that they can look out for behavioural changes and activities that might indicate that something is amiss. Romance scammers often tell their victims to keep their ‘relationship’ quiet to isolate them and avoid awkward questions from loved ones.
Sarah Spruce, Head of the Romance Scams team at TLW Solicitors, commented:
“While these statistics from the NFIB are startling, I imagine that the real number is much higher, unfortunately. Many romance scam victims are reluctant to come forward and report it because of the emotional nature of the scam, which makes them feel ashamed or embarrassed. There is no need to feel this way, and you are absolutely not alone if this has happened to you; we see cases like this on a daily basis, and we work hard with our clients to get them the compensation they deserve.”
If you, a friend or a loved one has been victimised by a financial scammer, please get in touch with our specialist team for a confidential, no-obligation discussion. We work on a no-win, no-fee basis, so you pay us nothing if your fraud refund claim is unsuccessful.
Call us on 0800 169 5925 or complete one of the forms below.
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