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How to avoid romance scams

As we approach a digital Valentine’s Day, it’s more important than ever to date safely online. Here’s some helpful tips from the Zopa fraud team

Romance fraud is when someone makes it seem like you’re in a relationship with them to get money from you.

Everyone thinks they would be able to spot it – for example if your online ‘partner’ suddenly starts telling sob stories to ask for money. But that’s only one way of doing it, and unfortunately, fraudsters are getting pretty subtle and are willing to play the long game. They’ll build online relationships over several months to get the information they need to take out loans or credit cards in other people’s names.

And, there are fears people will be especially vulnerable this year as people have been so lonely and a lot more interaction has been online

So here’s what to look out for and how to stay safe when you’re dating online.

1. Check their dating profile

Run a sceptical eye over the profile of anyone you’re talking to:

🚩 Is it on a reputable dating site?

🚩 Is it filled out and does the information make sense?

🚩Do the photos look suspiciously perfect? A reverse image search is a good way to see if they’ve been ‘borrowed’ from elsewhere.

2. Question their behaviour

Think about your interactions with them. 

🚩 Not wanting to make video calls

🚩 Only messaging when it suits them

🚩 Trying to take the conversation off the dating app and on to harder-to-trace apps like email or messenger

🚩 Moving really fast, for example introducing pet names or getting clingy quickly.

It can be hard, particularly if you feel you’re in a relationship with them, but treat any emotional stories with suspicion too. Stories like unfair business deals or sick relatives may be genuine, but they are also just the sort of tale a fraudster will tell to ask for money.

3. Be careful what information you share

Everyone knows not to give out bank details or security passwords, but that isn’t your only valuable information. Your personal details – like your full name, birthday – can be gathered and used to apply for financial products. It’s easy to give these away in conversation, particularly if things are getting flirty.

For example:

💬💬💬

‘What’s your star sign?

‘Scorpio’

‘No way! October or November?’

‘November!’

‘Oh cool – Christmas or fireworks?’

‘No – I’m sort of in the middle – the 20th.’

‘Big one this year? 😉’

No. I’m not a day over 35, thank you’

Haha. Well,  I’d love to send you some flowers for your birthday? What’s your address?’

💬💬💬

From an interaction like this they have your date of birth and address. If they have your surname from elsewhere, then they have what they need to start applying for financial products using your details.

The moral is think through the implications of romantic gestures like this, and only accept if you’re confident in who this person really is.

4. Never agree to send or receive money for someone else

This can open you up to all sorts of risks. You never truly know where the money has come from.

One common trick is for a scammer to apply for a loan in their victim’s name. As soon as they know the money is en route, they’ll call their victim to tell them to expect it, and would they mind just sending it straight in?

For many, that phone call legitimises the arrival of the money in their account, and they don’t think twice about forwarding it.

If any unexpected funds appear in your bank account, contact your financial provider immediately and ask them to investigate.

5. Walk away

One plus is that it’s a lot easier to walk away from a digital date. If you spot any of the signs above, then you take your leave immediately.

And if you fear you’ve been the victim of a fraudster, you can report to Action Fraud in confidence  online or by phone 0300 123 2040.

For more information about romance frauds, check out the following websites.

https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/a-z-of-fraud/dating-fraud

https://www.equifax.co.uk/resources/identity-protection/how-to-spot-and-avoid-romance-scams.html

https://www.met.police.uk/SysSiteAssets/media/downloads/central/advice/fraud/met/the-little-book-of-big-scams.pdf