Financial losses to romance fraud have spiked by 95% across the consumer retail banking sector since the beginning of 2020, according to statistics released by TSB as part of a campaign to draw attention to the problem.
In a report released today, the bank revealed that fraudsters posing as potential love interests online scammed more than 7,000 Brits out of £65m during the period, with each victim losing an average of £10,000.
It said that during one six-month period, cyber criminals took £17m, and that even now, the banking sector as a whole is recording just over 60 new cases of romance fraud every week.
TSB found romance fraudsters are fairly indiscriminate in who they target, with case volumes evenly distributed across age demographics. However, despite accounting for just 25% of victims, the majority of financial losses are incurred by people aged between 51 and 65.
Perhaps related to this, the highest losses are often incurred by those who are emotionally vulnerable or have recently had a life-changing experience, such as the breakdown of a previous relationship or the untimely death of a partner.
Paul Davis, director of fraud prevention at TSB, 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 need to step up to better protect those seeking relationships on their platforms.”
Davis also stressed the importance of not giving away personal or sensitive information to people you have never met.
A typical romance scam will begin on social media – Meta’s Facebook and Instagram are predictably most-frequently exploited due to their vast user bases – but scammers also make good use of dating platforms such as Grindr, Match, Plenty of Fish and Tinder.
Scammers will spend a significant length of time building trust with their marks – the average relationship lasted about 53 days before asking for money.
In most cases, they asked for financial help to cover bills or daily living costs, but a not-insignificant number claimed to be stranded abroad and supposedly in need of help to get back to the UK.
In about 8% of cases, the scammer posed as a citizen of a foreign country who wanted help getting to the UK to be with their victim. Last year saw a notable spike in scammers pretending to be Ukrainians in this way.
Many victims get so caught up in their online relationships that they go into debt, taking out loans to cover their losses.
In about 4% of cases, there was an element of blackmail involved in the scam, with payments being demanded after sharing explicit images or other personal information.
TSB said that while romance fraud accounts for just 4% of losses seen by its customers, they are “certainly the most emotive scams” that it refunds.
It laid out five steps people can easily take to safeguard their wallets, and hearts:
- Remain suspicious when using dating sites, and don’t volunteer too much personal information too early on.
- Speak to trusted friends and family about new connections you make online – they will be able to advise more impartially, or spot holes in your new friend’s story you might have missed.
- If the conversation turns to money, shut it down.
- Be suspicious of over-elaborate and emotive stories.
- Take things slowly – no matter how perfectly an individual may present themselves, they could still be lying, so don’t get caught up in a story you can’t validate.