It’s Valentine’s Day and many are setting out on a quest for love for the special occasion. Experts are urging us to beware of an increased number of technology scams that could get in the way of relationships.
When we think of villains our mind imagines someone scary, dark and obvious, but in real life it is not as easy to distinguish between the good guys and the not-so-good guys. The not-so-good guys can be as charming as a good ones and some of them can be found on screens—specifically smartphone and computer screens.
It is not news that hackers are usually focused on the times of year when we’re most vulnerable, and Valentine’s day is one of these occasions. Companies and agencies who monitor these kinds of scams expect those numbers to rise around Valentine's Day, as those looking to make a connection can also appear to be easy marks.
Losses due to romance scams
The number of romance fraud cases reported to West Midlands Police rising from 174 in 2019 to 328 in 2022. The amount lost to the fraud, meanwhile, has gone from £1.2 million in 2019 to £2.8 million last year.
It came to a total of £9.1 million in that time. The figures were revealed through a freedom of information request to Action Fraud, covering romance fraud cases reported to local police forces.
The situation in the West Midlands is reflected across the country. There have been a total of 29,408 romance scams reported to police in the UK over the last four years, costing victims £316.9 million. These were losses that have been reported but many do not report them so the number could be so much higher.
Common scams themes
Scammers may contact you using various different ways but here are some common themes:
- You rarely meet in person. They may claim to be stationed on a faraway military base or working as an offshore oil rig or ship worker. They may also claim to be sick, hurt, or in jail and alert you from the start that meeting in real life could be challenging.
- Most of them will spend time getting to know you online. But eventually they will ask for money, thire request will be linked to an alleged emergency, like issues with accessing bank accounts, jail-related or legal costs, or medical expenses.
- Scammers are also increasingly posing as successful cryptocurrency investors who claim they can teach you how to make your own fortune.
Don’t forget – it’s a lie!
So how can you tell that you're talking to a scammer? Here are some characteristics to look out for:
- They often seem too good to be true. Scammers often use photos and profiles that belong to other individuals, especially on social media.
- They fall in love at first sight. I know we all want the fairy tale, but when someone claims to have fallen in love with you, having never met you before, be suspicious. Relationships need time to develop.
- They use poor grammar. Many romance scammers are from foreign countries. Since English may not be their first language they may use a grammar app—their messages may sound odd or stilted.
- They mix romance with investment advice. Most relationships begin with talking about your shared interests. But if a new love interest seems preoccupied with chatting about investing in crypto, you’re likely being scammed.
Some tips to keep in mind:
- Be wary. Don't worry about appearing rude—a real romantic interest will understand your hesitation to jump into a relationship with someone you've never met.
- Be stingy. Never provide your bank account or personal details to someone you meet online.
- Be smart. Never send money or agree to invest with anyone you meet online. If you want to invest in cryptocurrency and don't know how to get started, don't rely on someone you've just met online—consult with a financial professional or a common platform like Coinbase.
- Be curious. If something doesn’t add up, ask questions.
- Be patient. Scammers will want to rush everything—from relationships to wire transfers. Slow down and investigate—and involve a tax or legal professional if you can't find the answers to your questions.
What to do if you’ve been scammed
- Report it to the police.
- Contact your bank if you have transferred money.
- Notify the online platform.
More information on this on Citizens Advice.