Sarah Lenette, one of Starling’s financial crime specialists, offers advice on how to spot romance fraud and stay safe.

If you’re looking to find a special someone, you may have tried a dating app - there are lots to choose from. But criminals can pretend to be someone they’re not, tricking individuals into believing they’ve found their ideal partner. Sadly, these scammers aren’t looking for love, they’re looking to steal money. Not only can this type of fraud have a financial impact on its victims, but the emotional impact can be devastating.

The perfect match… ?

It starts with the creation of a fake online profile, using stolen photos and personal details. These fake profiles may even appear on popular and well known dating sites. But it’s not just dating sites - victims may meet their ‘love interest’ on social media or via in-game chats.

Once a conversation has been initiated, the fraudster will often move the conversation onto another platform such as WhatsApp or by email. This can be because if the dating profile gets reported by someone else, it will be taken down and may raise the victim’s suspicions.

Relationships might escalate quickly, with feelings being declared shortly after that initial contact, but some criminals play the long game, stringing their target along for months. Excuses are given as to why they are unable to meet face to face, such as living abroad or being in the armed forces.

Requests for money may start off small, such as a hundred pounds for a flight to visit a sick relative, but can escalate to thousands. Money can be requested to assist with ‘legal fees’, ‘medical emergencies’, or to ‘unlock an inheritance’. Scammers even convince victims to invest in fake business opportunities.

“If you don’t send me the money, it means you don’t love me”

Criminals are experts at manipulation, using cruel methods to play with their victim’s emotions and gain their trust. They might discourage victims from discussing the relationship with friends or family, or use emotional blackmail to guilt trip individuals into sending money. They may become emotionally abusive.

Advice on how to stay safe

It’s easy to fall for romance fraud. Ask yourself these questions, to help stay safe:

  • Can you find this person on other social media platforms?
  • Are they avoiding meeting face to face or even a video call?
  • Can you find their photos online linked to other people? Use TinEye to try a reverse image search
  • Does their story add up? Trust your gut if something doesn’t feel right and challenge them.

An important way to keep yourself safe is to never send money to someone you’ve never met - no matter how much you trust them. Allowing another person to access your bank account, taking out a loan, or transferring money on someone else’s behalf, puts your money at risk.

Talk with a trusted friend or family member about new relationships. They may be able to provide support and help you to see things in a different light. For more information and advice, visit our friends at Take Five and remember to Stop, Challenge and Protect!

Download our leaflet about romance scams.

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