Victims lose millions of pounds after falling for online romance scams

Detectives are appealing for those affected to come forward as they warn the fraud often goes unreported.

Police Scotland warn of online romance scams as millions lost to fraudsters iStock

Police are urging people to beware of romance scams as new data reveals victims have lost millions of pounds to fraud.

Officers said romance fraud is often under-reported as people may be embarrassed, but they stressed all cases are treated seriously and in confidence.

Romance scams involve fraudsters who spend time building trust with their targets before requesting money.

Data from UK Finance shows more than 7,000 people across the UK fell victim to romance scammers between January 2020 and June 2022, with more than £65m lost.

TSB analysis of its customer data in 2022 found 51 to 65-year-olds account for almost half (46%) of the money lost to romance fraud, although the number of fraud cases are spread out across all age groups.

Detective superintendent Dave Ferry, head of the economic crime and financial investigation unit at Police Scotland, said: “Police Scotland is committed to tackling cyber-related crime, including online romance fraud, and understand the significant impact this can have on people and their families.

“Romance fraud in particular is often under-reported with people perhaps being embarrassed to come forward, but we want to reassure people that help and support is always available.

“Reporting these kind of incidents allows us to better understand the methods used by offenders, which allows us to work in partnership towards prevention.

“I want to stress that we take all reports seriously and deal with them in confidence.

“It is important to remember the majority of people using social media platforms or dating sites are responsible and genuine, but you should be aware of how to stay protected.”

He urged people to make sure they are choosing reputable dating websites and be mindful of how much personal information they share.

The detective also advised people never to send money or provide their credit card, account details or copies of any personal documents, no matter how much they trust the person or believe their story.

The TSB customer data analysis found the average relationship – between the first and last payment made – lasts 53 days.

In 60% of cases, scammers simply asked for financial help for bills or daily living.

One in six (21%) claimed they were stuck abroad and needed help supporting themselves while they tried to find a way home – with “working on an oil rig” a particular favourite.

In one in 20 (4%) cases, scammers received payments because they had blackmailed their prey – either due to having been sent explicit images, or due to personal information shared with them.

TSB urged people to be vigilant and advised them to consult a friend or family member the very moment an online relationship turns to requests for money.

Paul Davis, its director of fraud prevention, said: “The best way of beating romance scammers is by talking to friends and family about the relationships you’re in – if you’re ever asked to send money then it’s time to stop.

“Social media and tech firms also need to step up to better protect those seeking relationships on their platforms.”

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