Don’t be a victim of a Valentine’s scam

St Valentine’s day in 2021 will be very different. With the current lockdown in place, it is not possible to physically meet with others and so we are increasingly reliant on virtual contact. For those already in a relationship, we have probably spent more time with our partners than we could have ever imagined.

Loneliness and feelings of isolation have been heightened by the pandemic which has created vulnerability. Every significant day in the calendar is an opportunity for scammers to wreak havoc and seek to exploit that vulnerability.

We don’t want to squeeze all the happiness from what should be a happy day, but IPS want to remind members to be wary. We want to help you spot the tell-tale signs so that you STAY SAFE!

Protect your friends by sharing this article with them:

What is a Romance Scam?

A romance scam is a confidence trick involving a criminal (or a “company” supporting them) who feigns romantic intentions towards an unsuspecting victim. They first gain the trust and affection of their target and then use that goodwill to trick their victim into sending money under false pretences. Variations on the theme include frauds relating to identity theft, sham marriages and immigration scams built on these improbable yet all-too-common relationships.

Scale of the problem

More than 600 romance scams were reported per month by Action Fraud during June, July and August of 2020. Anecdotally we estimate that only 5% of scams are reported because of perceived shame, embarrassment and the difficulty in securing justice on an individual case level. Criminals feel confident they can get away with this and continue to exploit victims’ need for human contact during the lockdown. Action Fraud reported that over £66m was lost which equates to a horrifying £10,000 per victim

What to look out for

Romance scams are particularly cruel with the scammer manipulating and abusing the victim’s emotions.  These cynical and often smooth-talking criminals are well-versed in spinning stories to attract their victim.

Please be on the lookout for the following red flags:

  • You meet someone online or through a dating app and they ask too many personal questions that involve facts and data
  • They avoid answering personal questions about themselves. When they do tell you things, however convincing, do you have any way of checking if it’s a lie or the truth? Their story might alter over time as they can’t quite keep track of all the lies.
  • They will try to move communications away from the dating site by suggesting instant messaging, texting or telephoning.
  • Their profile pictures may look too perfect. These are often stolen from someone else. You can check this using a Reverse Image Search and there are several to be found like duplichecker.com
  • They try their best to establish a bond with you very quickly. Do they start saying ‘you’re very special’ or ‘you’re the one’ with surprising speed?
  • Once this ‘bond’ is established they usually ask for financial help. It might be that a family member is unwell and requires immediate treatment they are having trouble financing. This is a huge warning sign. You should stop communication with them NOW.
  • They are likely to avoid any form of video call for fear of giving you too many reasons to doubt them. Did anyone else reject the idea of a video call with you recently? If they do agree to a meeting (lockdown rules aside), you can expect a last minute excuse to cancel it; they might even go so far as to request financial help for the cost of travelling.

To quote George Kidd, Chief Executive of the Online Dating Association:

“Dating services have no forgiveness for romance fraudsters and combat them by all means possible. No-one goes on social media or a dating service looking to fund someone’s lifestyle in the name of love.  We use technology and human moderation to block fake profiles, create safer messaging platforms, and increasing use of video chat and photo-verification that makes it harder still to invent a profile and get away with it. 

We hope social media platforms will join in fighting this cruel form of online fraud. No-one who has been targeted and deceived should feel at fault. Report it to Action Fraud and to your dating app or service to help us help you and protect others.”

IPS Advice

In order to protect yourself for all this emotional distress:
  • Don’t share personal details with a stranger you have just met. Why do they need to know your home address and date of birth? This might be a setup for an identity fraud.
  • If you use sites like Facebook, don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know. If you do, you should read this article again before you go on to communicate with whoever this person claims to be. Remember it could be a criminal pretending to be someone else.
  • Never send or receive money from anyone you’ve met online, no matter how convincing their story.
  • Use trusted dating websites. Scammers will try and guide you away from the sites onto private social media, texts and mobile channels which makes their crime easier to hide. Communicate via the dating site because this will provide a record of activities and exchanges – especially any requests made for money.
  • Be careful and trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable STOP

If this message reaches you too late and you have had money taken, do not be embarrassed.

Please report to Action Fraud immediately. You can call them on 0330 123 2040.

You should also report these fake dating profiles to the dating websites themselves. All the information they receive helps them investigate fraud and can protect other people from falling for the same scam.

Good luck out there and do not fall for anything sounding too good to be true.

Have your say

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