Don’t be a Romance Fraud Victim this Valentine’s Day

Romance Fraud has become more common knowledge over the last few years thanks the media and conversation surrounding ‘Catfishing’ – the act of luring a person into a relationship through the use of a fictional online persona – but these cases are often just stories of lonely individuals using lies and manipulation in a desperate attempt to have someone to talk to – the real concern here is when the fraud element comes into play.
 
Romance Fraud specifically refers to a person using a fake profile and romantic persuasion with the goal of gaining the victim’s trust enough that they can convince them to either send large sums of money, assist with money laundering, or give out enough personal information that the fraudster can steal their identity for future scams.
 
Many people have experienced these attempts before through emails or direct messages littered with spelling mistakes and pushing for a money transfer within two sentences, but modern scammers are adjusting their approach to adapt to this new wave of scepticism, spending months wooing their targets before starting their chain of requests for smaller lump sums that quickly add up. The most common method for this seems to be using the requested money as the only solution to finally meet their target – like needing it for plane tickets or visas – but there is always a new problem ready to pop-up that will need an even bigger payment.
 
This is usually the stage where victims begin to realise the mistakes they have made, but it’s often too late – Action Fraud reported that Romance Fraud cost users over £50m last year, with the average loss per user falling at just over £11,000.
 

Real World Tactics

In this article a previous victim of romance fraud named Amy (name changed for article) discusses her personal experiences leading her to lose $300,000 – from this we have listed some of the key manipulative tactics that were used to deceive her, as well as many others in similar situations:
 
 

Widowed

In her account, Amy explains that she took to dating websites following the loss of her husband – widows and divorcees are very common targets of fraudsters as they are often lonely and more sympathetic towards the fabricated stories that they are fed due to their own experiences.

 

100% Match!

‘Duane’ appeared to Amy as a ‘100% match’ suggested by the dating site, pushing her to be the first to make contact – it’s likely that the fraudster created this profile after pre-selecting their target, designing the whole thing to appear as her ‘perfect match’ instead of a random stranger sending her a message out of the blue.
 
 

Personality Questionnaires

During their early conversations, ‘Duane’ suggested the pair fill out questionnaires regarding their favourite foods, hobbies & quirks – as well as financial status. This is a smart ploy to get a lot of personal information out of the target without having to personally send a suspicious number of questions.
 
 

Business Travels

Like many fraudsters, the one in this story often used the excuse of travelling for work as a way to silence suspicions of oddly-timed messages, inconsistent stories, and failed attempts to meet in person.
 
 

‘Love Bombing’

Love bombing is the act of showering a person with an excessive amount of compliments, gifts and other forms of affection, usually causing the target to find themselves in a serious relationship very quickly without really having had a moment to stop and think about it – in the example, Amy experienced this tactic through delivered bouquets of flowers, romantic songs, and poetic admissions of love.
 
 

Fake Proof

In these situations, fraudsters will sometimes send over little bits of ‘proof’ to back up their claims or requests – like ‘Duane’ sending Amy selfies on request without question, or images of checks and other documents when asking for financial help. This evidence can usually be ruled out through some extra questioning or google searches, but these victims want to be wrong about their suspicions, so they accept whatever reasoning they are given.

Steps to Protect Yourself

Dating websites aren’t exclusively full of fraudsters like Duane, but there are a lot of them out there – the next time you find a new match on Tinder, or receive a message from a stranger on any online platform really, try to put these tips into place to better protect yourself.
 
  • Limit personal details
It’s hard to get to know a person without sharing any information about yourself – which is the intended purpose of using a dating website – but you should still limit these details until you’ve met a person face-to-face. For example, you might tell them your first name but not your full name, your city but not a specific area, and your age but not the date of your birthday.
 
  • Stay on one platform
Fraudsters commonly move their conversations off dating websites quickly, suggesting that instant messaging, email, or text is a more convenient method – not only does this give them more information on their target (email address or phone number), but it also prevents trusted dating websites from having proof of financial requests and other suspicious activity.
 
  • Don’t send or accept money
When talking to people you have met online who you haven’t met in person or haven’t known for long, avoid sending them any money no matter how dire their circumstances sound. On the other hand, you should also be wary of online strangers offering to send you money, as they could be using you for money laundering.
 
  • Reverse search images

Using Google Images, you can quickly and easily do a reverse search on images, showing other websites and profiles that have used the same pictures. This will allow you to confirm if the person you’ve met online is lying to you – at least about their looks – and even track down the original source of the photo so you can warn the person that their photos and identity have been stolen. 

 

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