Almost three in 10 (29%) people who have met others online in the past 12 months say they were asked to give or lend money to someone they had not met in person, according to a survey.
And more than half of those asked to hand over cash did so, according to the research commissioned by trade body UK Finance.
Its Take Five To Stop Fraud campaign is warning people ahead of Valentine’s Day to watch out for criminals posing as online love interests.
Romance scammers often take weeks or months building up a rapport with their victims and may ask for multiple payments. They may claim to be doing charity work overseas or need money urgently for an operation, a business investment or a flight to meet up with their victim, for example.
And with many people being squeezed by rising bills, scammers may also claim they need money to help with their living costs.
They will set up fake profiles, often using photos of other people to do so.
UK Finance said the amount of money lost to romance fraud remains high, with £16.6 million reported stolen through these scams in the first half of 2022.
The survey of 2,000 people across the UK by Opinium in January 2023 found 51% of those asked to give or lend money agreed to do so, with 8% sending more than £1,000.
Of those who had started a romantic relationship online in the past 12 months, just under half (47%) said they would need to meet their date in person to trust they are who they say they are.
In the average romance scam case, the victim is tricked into making about eight payments, UK Finance said.
The survey also revealed the three most common reasons people were asked for money – to pay for an emergency, for travel to meet the victim and to pay a bill.
Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, said: “Losing money to fraud is both emotionally and financially damaging for victims, even more so when you thought it was someone you could trust.
“Unfortunately, heartless criminals are taking advantage of people looking for love.
“We would urge everyone to follow the advice of the Take Five To Stop Fraud campaign and avoid sending money to someone you have never met in person.
“If you think you’ve been the victim of a romance scam, contact your bank immediately.”
Ahead of Valentine’s Day on February 14, the Take Five To Stop Fraud campaign has some tips for staying safe from romance scams when dating online:
– Be suspicious of requests for money from someone you have never met in person, particularly if you have only recently met them online;
– Speak to your family or friends to get advice and share experiences;
– Profile photos may not be genuine so you should make sure to do your research first. You can do this by uploading a picture of the person you are talking to into your search engine to check profile photos are not associated with another name. Performing a reverse image search can find photos that have been taken from somewhere or someone else;
– Stay on the dating website’s messaging service until you are confident the person is who they say they are and ensure meetings in person take place in a public place. Online dating platforms have moderation and reporting processes in place to protect daters and remove scammers; and
– Contact your bank immediately if you think you may have fallen victim to a romance scam, notify Action Fraud and let the platform on which you met the scammer know.