With just under a week to go until Valentine’s Day, two groups in Northern Ireland have issued warnings amid a rise in online romance scams.
Recent data reveals that romance scams increased by more than a fifth last year in comparison to 2022, according to Lloyds Bank. The average amount lost was £6,937 and those aged between 55 and 64 were most likely to report being a victim of a romance scam.
Advice NI and Relate NI are urging the public to remain vigilant, as these growing fraudulent schemes have left many individuals not only heartbroken, but financially devastated after losing substantial sums to scammers.
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Fraudsters are becoming more creative in devising new and sophisticated schemes including online dating scams, where perpetrators build romantic connections with unsuspecting victims before swindling them out of money.
The financial losses incurred can range from hundreds to thousands of pounds leaving victims feeling embarrassed and for some, facing serious financial difficulty, according to Sinead Campbell, Head of Money, Debt and Quality at Advice NI.
Sinead explained: “Targeting those seeking love online is a common tactic employed by criminals to capitalise on people’s emotions and take advantage of individuals who may already be grappling with financial difficulties.
“No genuine relationship begins with sending money to someone you haven’t met, but these criminals can often spend months earning the trust of their victims and leading them to believe they’re in a loving relationship. They soon demand money or encourage their victims to take out credit cards or loans on their behalf – the impact of which can hurt the individual’s finances for years to come.
“Unfortunately, the true extent of this issue often remains hidden as many victims are too embarrassed to come forward, but raising awareness about the sophistication of these scams is crucial and as Valentine’s Day approaches, we’re urging the public to exercise caution and remain vigilant, when looking for love online.”
To help spot potential scams Advice NI had identified several precautionary measures, such as communicating through dating apps or websites only, as these platforms feature built-in verification measures and take steps to eliminate fake accounts.
The debt and advice charity also urges individuals to conduct thorough research including checking social media profiles for any inconsistencies in names and locations. If a situation appears too good to be true, it likely is.
Those dating online should also exercise caution if they’ve never met or spoken with the person over video call.
Sinead added: “Additionally individuals should be wary of anyone pressuring you for money or those who ask for personal details such as passwords, account numbers, or PIN numbers.”
Frances McCausland, Head of Business Operations at Relate NI, the charity for expert information and support for healthy relationships, emphasises the importance of taking the time to build trust in any relationship and being cautious of sudden financial requests or love bombing, a manipulation technique which involves excessive displays of love and affection.
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Frances said: “With the rise of online dating, unfortunately, we have seen that more people are seeking help because of love bombing. This technique can be used by criminals to manipulate people via financial requests or extravagant gifts, which we know are not uncommon between couples around holidays, including Valentine’s Day and therefore may not be seen as an initial red flag.
“It’s important however for individuals to recognise the signs of love bombing and to trust their instincts if something feels off in a relationship. Maintaining healthy boundaries, seeking support from trusted friends and family members, and seeking professional help if needed can help individuals protect themselves from the dangers of love bombing. Relate NI have a range of therapeutic relationship support services that can help you.”
Sinead concludes: “If you have fallen victim to a scam and are grappling with financial challenges, remember that you are not alone. Seeking support is the first step towards finding a possible solution and Advice NI offers free, bespoke advice to take back control of your finances. It’s essential to understand that being a victim is nothing to be ashamed of and we assure complete confidentiality in every case.”
Advice NI’s free and confidential Money and Debt Service, funded by the Department for Communities, aims to help clients to free their future by providing straight forward advice to tackle the issue head-on. When service users call the debt service, expert advisers provide support and information to help people regain control of their situation.
Contact Advice NI by calling the Freephone helpline on 0800 915 4604 to speak directly to an adviser between 9.00am and 5.00pm Monday to Friday. For more advice on relationship support visit relateni.org or call 02890 323454.
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