The UK banking industry is warning consumers not to fall victim to romance fraud, after revealing that over a quarter (27%) of dating website users have been scammed by fake personas over the past year.
Known as “catfishing,” these usually involve a fraudster posing as someone they’re not in order to gain the trust of those looking for love on a dating site.
Once they’ve ingratiated themselves, they typically will try to trick the victim into wiring them funds to deal with an ‘emergency,’ or even to become unwitting money mules.
Over a fifth (21%) of dating website users told UK Finance they have either been asked for money or have given money to someone that they met online. The average amount was £321, although in total £7.9m was lost to romance scams in the first half of 2019, an increase of 50% on the previous year.
The banking lobby group warned that over half (55%) of dating site users are inviting trouble by claiming to trust the people they meet online before they’ve seen them in person.
Men (33%) were more likely to say they had been catfished than women (20%), and also more likely to be asked for money than women (26% versus 15%).
Katy Worobec, managing director of economic crime at UK Finance, urged netizens to be cautious ahead of Valentine’s Day on Friday.
“Romance scams are both emotionally and financially damaging for victims,” she added.
“Although banks are always looking out for suspicious activity, customers must be on their guard and protect themselves too. Always be wary of requests for money from someone you’ve never met in person. If you think you’ve been the victim of a romance scam, contact your bank immediately.”
The research comes a week after the FBI released a similar warning to lonely hearts. According to the Bureau’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), 18,000 victims reported losses of over $362m in 2018.
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