Romance scams involving men grew by 40 per cent last year, while the number involving women saw a marginal drop of two per cent, according to new data from Nationwide.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, Nationwide is focusing on romance scams as part of its wider efforts to tackle economic crime through education. Romance scams often involve criminals building online relationships based on a false sense of trust and the promise of a relationship. After laying the foundations, the criminal will inevitably request money, often using an emotional backstory in order to manipulate their victim.
Overall, there were 42 per cent more cases of romance scams reported by men in 2023 compared to women. And of the total romance scam cases involving men, nearly two in five (39%) involved those aged 50-70 years old, compared to 45 per cent of women. However, contrary to the view that romance scams are reserved for older people, one in five (20%) cases involved men aged 20-30, compared to just over one in ten (11%) women.
Overall, half of romance scam cases reported to Nationwide last year involved a reported loss of under £1,000. This is because romance scams tend to start with a lower payment value as the scammer looks to build trust with the victim. As trust and confidence builds, so does the payment value. A quarter (25%) of cases involve claims for £1,000 to £5,000, while a further 25 per cent involve higher reported sums (over £5,000).
According to Nationwide’s data, women are more likely to lose more than men, with the average 2023 claim standing at £10,610 compared to £8,181 for men.
Nationwide encourages any customers concerned about a payment to use its Scam Checker Service before making any payment. It is available in branch or by calling a 24/7 freephone number (0800 030 4057). If the payment goes ahead and the customer is subsequently scammed, unless Nationwide told the customer not to proceed, they will be fully reimbursed.
Jim Winters, Nationwide’s Director of Economic Crime, said: “Criminals can be very convincing and persuasive enough to get someone looking for love or feeling lonely to give them their trust, personal details and ultimately their money, even when they haven’t actually met each other in person. Our data shows all ages can be a target of romance scams as criminals will cast their net far and wide to stand the best chance of snaring a victim. This is why everyone looking for love, regardless of age or gender, needs to protect their wallet as well as their hearts by looking out for any red flags. Be curious, ask questions and involve family and friends who have your best interests at heart. Education is the biggest deterrent to scams.”
Example case study
Following a marital breakup, a Nationwide customer started a new relationship with someone they met on TikTok. The other person messaged the customer every other day via WhatsApp – however they never spoke, only ever messaged. The other person claimed to be serving in the US military and claimed to have sent expensive gifts to Nationwide’s customer. However, they were told that these were stopped on route and would be held until taxes and customs fees were paid. A payment of £7,000 was sent by the customer but the ‘courier’ delivering the packages contacted the customer and said police had seized the gifts and further payments were required. The scam was reported by a family member and initially the customer didn’t want to accept it was a scam. However, following a visit to a Nationwide branch where education about these types of scams and the red flags to look out for was provided, the customer realised it was, in fact, a scam and no further payments were made, while the initial payment was refunded.
Warning signs of romance scams and top tips on how to avoid becoming a victim
Red flags and warning signs to look out for:
- Available or remote? Many repeatedly avoid meeting in person and have a variety of reasons as to why they can’t meet up, such as working abroad and being unable to travel. They may also refuse to even show themselves over a video call, claiming, for example, that their camera isn’t working.
- Financially stable or in crisis? At some point they will introduce a crisis that means you need to help them financially, such as needing help with medical fees, an ill relative, paying for materials or tools for their business, travel expenses, or to avoid persecution. It may even mean you become complicit in their fraud.
- Attentive or controlling? The scammer may try to establish constant contact, encourage you to keep the relationship secret and try to get you to communicate with them off of the original dating site you met on, by suggesting you move to a more private method, such as email, phone or instant messaging.
- Besotted or obsessive? They are likely to fall in love with you very quickly and declare strong feelings for you after a few conversations. They will work hard to get you to match their feelings.
- Generic or endearing? Scammers often use scripts and are in contact with more than one victim at a time. In order to keep all their plates spinning at the same time, they may avoid using your name and instead use terms of endearment like honey, babe or angel that can be used with multiple people.
- Real photo or too good to be true? Romance scammers will often provide photos that may have been stolen from many places online, whether that be from professional websites, or from another person’s social media profiles.
- Consistency or flaws in the story: Their profile on the internet dating website or social media page may include spelling and grammar mistakes and not be consistent with what they tell you.
How to keep your money safe:
- Keep your conversations on trustworthy dating apps and websites: Scammers try to take your interactions outside the dating apps and websites. They encourage you to use private emails, phone calls and instant messaging. These cannot be easily tracked and are not as secure.
- Do not let money come into your online relationship: This includes sending and accepting money. Meet them in person and get to know them. Giving lots of reasons for why they cannot meet up is a warning sign. They’re trying to hide. And if they ask for money, always walk away.
- Research the people you meet online: If things start to become serious, it’s okay to look up this person a bit more. Are they on other social network websites? Can you confirm what they’ve told you about where they work or live or what their life circumstances are? Do a reverse image search on their photos. Scammers invariably reuse images of other people they find online.
- Run it by friends and family: Often, scammers will try and make your relationship a secret between the two of you. Talk about your relationship with friends and family you trust. They may spot something suspicious.
- Be wary of how they talk to you: Scammers often use scripts and work on multiple victims at a time. They avoid using your name and instead use general terms like honey, babe or angel. There may also be inconsistencies in their stories. It’s okay to be suspicious.
– Ends –