People looking for love online have been warned to be on high alert for scammers this Valentine’s Day because romance fraud has risen by more than a third, according to data released by Victim Support.
The charity, the UK’s biggest provider of services for victims of crime, is circulating a warning to online daters after a 38% rise in the number of romance fraud victims being supported by its services. Its supported 322 victims in 2022, up from 233 in 2021.
One 39-year-old woman received a message on Instagram from someone purporting to be in the US military. After chatting for a couple of days, romance blossomed and he told her he loved her. He then started asking for money as he said he wanted to leave the US military to be with her but needed to pay money to get out. At first she sent money – losing £4,000 to him – but then she became suspicious.
“I found a romance scam website and all I had to do was put the surname in of the person he told me he was and there was page after page after page of people saying ‘don’t speak to this person, he asked me for £3,000’, ‘he’s asked me for money and he wants to come to the UK,’” she said. “There were about 17 pages just about this person – he was on all the dating sites. It made me feel sick.”
The charity has compiled a series of red flags to help people dodge romance fraudsters, including early declarations of love and excessive flattery, asking victims to keep the relationship secret, and making up excuses for not being able to do a video call or meet in person.
Scammers may demand money by saying things such as “but I thought we were in love”, if the victim appears reluctant to hand over money. Some ask the victim to accept money from third parties into their account, a sign they may be trying to use the account for money laundering.
Rogue dating profileS can be reported to the website Scamalytics, as well as to Victim Support. Victims are urged to report any loss of money to their bank and to Action Fraud and to keep a high level of security across their social media accounts.
Lisa Mills, a romance fraud expert at Victim Support, said: “Romance fraud is remarkably common and we often see spikes at times when people are feeling lonely or isolated. With Valentine’s Day approaching, we know that this can be a trigger for some people. We want everyone to be on guard against romance fraudsters, who could be posing as your ideal partner.”