10 red flags to watch out for | #DatingScams | #LoveScams | #RomanceScans

Around Valentine’s Day, many will be checking out dating websites and social media looking for love. But romance scammers could also be lying in wait to cynically con people.

Rom-cons can be big pay-outs for fraudsters, who may spend weeks – even months – ‘grooming’ a victim before asking for money.

Once the fraudster believes their victim has developed an emotional attachment, this can be a trigger point for requests for money, says HSBC UK, which saw romance scams worth nearly £6 million attempted in the UK last year.

Between one and two dozen romance scams are uncovered by it each month, and in 2023e, this amounted to nearly £30,000.

David Callington, HSBC UK’s head of fraud, says: “Romance scams do not just happen around Valentine’s Day, we see cases of innocent people who are looking for love being scammed all-year round. It often takes many months before a scammer shows their true colours, asking for money to pay for what can be quite outlandish reasons.

“There are common factors that should raise serious red flags – requesting money in the first place, being asked to lie to your bank, and any payment request made with absolute urgency and with dire consequences if it isn’t made.

“These scammers are experts in emotional manipulation, tapping into the kind nature of their victims with no concern about the financial or emotional impact of their actions.”

Often, victims lose much more than money, as they believe they are in a committed relationship with the fraudster. In some cases, fraudsters may also persuade people to send explicit images, which they could then use to blackmail the person and taking more money.

Criminals will use fake profiles, using stolen images – so it could be worth doing a reverse image search to check if a photo originates from someone else. Scammers may even try to misuse celebrities’ profiles to lure people in.

Romance scammers may also make promises that big sums of cash await. They may claim they need money up front in order to release funds, or suggest an “investment opportunity” their victim should pay into.

Here are some red flag reminders from HSBC UK for warning signs to look out for when dating online:

1. Rapid emotional attachment: While some scammers may take their time, others may try to progress relationships very quickly.

2. Avoiding meeting face-to-face: Fraudsters often avoid in-person interactions. Be cautious if your online date consistently makes excuses to meet or delays face-to-face encounters.

3. Asking for money: Scammers may fabricate emergencies or hardships to manipulate your emotions. Do not send money to someone you’ve only met online.

4. Being encouraged to lie to your bank: Scammers will often ask you to lie to your bank to give them a better chance of the payment not causing suspicion. They will often coach their victim in how to respond to questions that may be asked. But telling the truth gives the bank the best chance of protecting your money – and you receiving money back if you do end up being the victim of a scam.

5. Inconsistencies in what you are told: Pay attention to the information shared. Scammers may use different personas across different victims, with conflicting details.

6. Refusal to video chat: If your online connection consistently avoids video interactions, it could be a red flag.

7. High-pressure tactics: Scammers often use urgency or emotional manipulation to pressure victims into quick decisions. Take your time and remain sceptical of requests that seem overly urgent.

8. Unrealistic photos: Be cautious if the person’s online photos appear overly-polished or seem too good to be true. Scammers often use stolen images from other profiles.

9. Being asked for a lot of personal information: Avoid sharing sensitive information, such as your address or financial details, with someone you’ve only met online.

10. Feeling caught up in the romance: Be vigilant, trust instinct and verify information to protect yourself from scams. You could also sound out friends and family members to get a second opinion from people you trust.

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National Cyber Security