How to identify and avoid ‘romance fraud’

The pandemic has seen a steep increase in what is termed ‘romance fraud’, with Action Fraud reporting that in the year to April 2021 during the Covid-19 pandemic, reports of romance fraud were up by 40%. Additionally, a total of 8,863 cases of romance fraud were reported between November 2020 and October 2021, a considerable rise on the 6,968 reports seen in the 2020 calendar year. However, this is unlikely to show the full picture as romance fraud is typically less likely to be reported by victims.

Romance fraud takes place when a criminal scams someone out of money under the guise of seeking a romantic relationship. Such fraudsters often commit their crimes after gaining the person’s trust over a period of time, before asking for money or using the personal information gained during this time to steal the victim’s identity. This type of fraud, which was recently portrayed in Netflix true-crime documentary, The Tinder Swindler, tends to target wealthy individuals, often widows.

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is loneliness, which goes hand in hand with being more vulnerable to such attacks. With romance fraudsters becoming more widespread, it is all the more important to help raise awareness and protect those who might be more at risk.

It is important to be able to spot the signs of these scams, be that for yourself or when looking out for others. Here are our top tips on what to look out for and what to do if you suspect romance fraud is at play:

Look out for changes in behaviour

Keep an eye out for any changes in behaviour in your friends and family that may be cause for concern, for example if they are being secretive about a new relationship or if they withdraw from the conversation when you ask any questions about their partner.

If you do notice any changes in behaviour, you should speak to your loved one about it and explain that you are there to support them and are looking out for their best interests.

If you believe your loved one may be being targeted for romance fraud, you should report the suspicious activity to Action Fraud.

Make use of the resources available

The ‘Take Five to Stop Fraud’ campaign offers excellent resources and support that you can offer to your loved one if you are concerned they are the victim of romance fraud. It helps encourage them to take a moment to stop and think about the reasons why they are trying to make any monetary transactions. Scammers often feign an emergency as a means of getting their victims to transfer money before properly thinking through their decision – often only when they take a step back are they able to see through the deception. If you suspect fraudulent activity then you should report it.

Provide support in reporting fraudulent activity if necessary

If you believe your loved one has been engaging with someone intending to commit fraud, they have made a request to send money, or may even have already done so, you should encourage them to contact their bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud. Victims may find this process embarrassing so it is important you are there to support them.

It is important to remember that romance fraud is a crime and must be reported as soon as possible. For more information, visit the Action Fraud website.