How to avoid romance scams as numbers rise – A case study

Category: News

According to UK Finance, losses from payment fraud totalled £1.26 billion in 2020. The organisation’s report confirms that the banking industry prevented a further £1.6 billion of potential losses that year.

Lloyds Bank, meanwhile, has looked at one of the scam types that is on the rise. Its report found that romance scams increased by 16% last year.

Romance fraud can be financially and emotionally devastating, and yet it doesn’t always go reported.

Designed to target and manipulate the vulnerable, those who fall victim might feel too embarrassed to report the crime or worry that their case will be deemed less of a priority than other types of financial fraud.

We were recently approached by a client willing to tell their story. It highlights the lengths that fraudsters are willing to go to, the sophistication of the psychological games they are capable of, and the financial and emotional damage that can be caused.

Romance fraud: A case study

First contact

Our client was first contacted through an online dating site. Already vulnerable due to bereavement – and the refusal of bereavement counselling – our client thought their so-called “post-bereavement crazy time” was over.

The scammer remorselessly took advantage of this emotional trauma and vulnerability.

Without a partner who had always been “a bulwark against irresponsibility” our client was “vulnerable without realising it”.

The rise of internet dating – and loneliness during lockdown – has seen romance scams rise as fraudsters look to capitalise on our vulnerabilities. It is a problem that affects all ages, genders, ethnicities, and sexual orientations.

Building a relationship

Our client began receiving requests for money within three weeks of meeting a potential companion online. The fraudster had skilfully portrayed themself as all alone in the world, poorly off, and unable to work for health reasons.

In fact, the fraudster was married and had a family, although our client only discovered this after all ties had been severed completely. It was at this point that our client found out that the fraudster had conducted a similar scam some years before, with a previous partner.

The fraudster had only been married for about three months before entering into a relationship with our client. As with many romance scammers, the fraudster was “remarkably skilled, using sociopathic personality traits to build an ongoing relationship, which ultimately turned out to be a complete fraud. A relationship founded on deceit and lies from the outset.”

Our client provided monthly payments to the fraudster as a “carer companion”, as well as providing vehicles on finance, and a house, rent-free. This continued until the relationship terminated.

“At the beginning,” our client says, “I tended to challenge requests for cash. Indeed, within a year, I began to consider myself a possible victim of elder abuse. I was busy with other things in my life and I convinced myself that things would get better.

“After a time, I found I was lulled into a false sense of trust and security.”

Planting the seeds of alienation

With suspicions growing, the fraudster increasingly brought their victim’s mental and physical capacity into question.

Seeking to place a barrier between a victim and their family and friends is one of the ways that scammers look to alienate. In this case, the scammer used subtle suggestions to suggest that loved ones didn’t have our client’s best interests at heart. “This prevented me from discussing my misgivings with trusted friends and family and I wish I had.”

As the relationship continued, so too did the requests for cash for all manner of things, paid out “almost automatically”.

“In retrospect, I feel I was systematically brainwashed and manipulated by a very skilled operator who relieved me of more than £1 million.

“Interestingly,” our client finishes, “the police have shown very little interest in the case. I am now pursuing a civil action for restitution.”

Romance scam red flags to look out for

Romance scams will often begin online and for many, that is where they will stay.

Online romance scammers use fake profile pictures and personalities, trying to obtain personal details to lure their victims away from the relative safety of the dating site. They might make plans to meet in person but will likely fail to show, instead, asking for money to cover “an emergency”.

As our client’s experience shows, however, some scammers are more manipulative and brazen, and are willing to step out of the virtual online world and into the real world.

 UK Finance advice is straightforward:

  • Avoid sending money to someone you have only met online
  • Research the person you are talking to, keep contact to the dating site or messaging service and don’t give out personal contact details until you’re confident the person is who they say they are
  • Always ensure any meetings in person take place in public.

Remember too, that romance scammers are willing to prey on the vulnerable. As romance scams increase, the sophistication of scammer tactics and lengths that they will go to may also increase.

Stay on your guard, and always consider the possibility of a scam. Only accept friend requests from people you know and trust and if you are in any doubt, speak up.

The financial implications of fraud are huge, but the emotional impact of a romance fraud on victims targeted for their vulnerability can be even more pronounced.

Get in touch

If you have any questions about the safety of your money or any other aspect of your long-term financial plans, please get in touch. Email or call us on 020 8891 0711 to discuss how Globe IFA’s expert financial advisors can help you.