There are a lot of apps out there, with all sorts of people looking for the same thing, but among them are a select few who aren’t looking for love at all, instead they are aiming to scam unsuspecting victims out of thousands of pounds.

Romance fraud has come to public attention recently with the popularity of the Netflix documentary, The Tinder Swindler, which tells the story of three women who were conned out of over £300,000 by fraudster, Simon Leviev. This total is just a fraction of the £7.4million total he is said to have stolen from his victims.

This is clearly an extreme case, but as dating apps grow in popularity, romance fraud is becoming more common with devastating financial and emotional consequences.

A recent survey by UK Finance found that nearly 40 per cent of people looking for love online were asked for money and over half (57 per cent) of those who were asked for money, said that they gave it or lent it.

What is romance fraud?

The scam begins with the creation of a fake profile on a dating site using stolen photos and personal information.

Once a connection is made the scammer will usually initiate the conversation. They will then quickly encourage you to move communication off the dating site onto text, email or WhatsApp so they cannot be monitored and there will be no record of them asking you for money.

The scammer will then escalate the relationship quickly with strong feelings declared after a short period of time, but they will often make excuses as to why they cannot meet in person, like they are working overseas or are in the armed forces. They will also ask a lot of personal questions about you, as the more they know about you, the more easily they can use that information to manipulate you.

Eventually, they will ask you for money. They could say this is to pay for an emergency, make an investment or even to pay for travel to come to meet you. Having worked hard to build an emotional connection, fraudsters can use emotional blackmail to guilt victims into parting with their money, discouraging them from discussing their relationship with their friends and family and even becoming emotionally abusive.

Keeping yourself safe

There are many genuine people on dating sites, but we have some tips to spot the ones whose intentions aren’t so pure…

  • Try to find the person on other social media sites. If they have no friends or connections on the other sites, this is red flag, as it means the profile was probably made recently and/or it’s a fake.
  • Reverse search their profile image to see if it is connected to other people and if the same details have been used elsewhere.
  • Be careful if the person tries to escalate the relationship quickly requesting financial information or personal photos.
  • Beware if they keep making excuses as to why they can’t meet up with you.
  • Do not hand over copies of any personal documents such as your driving license or passport.
  • Never send money to anyone you’ve only met online, no matter how trustworthy or how desperate they seem.

What to do if I fall victim to romance fraud

Firstly, do not feel embarrassed that this has happened. Romance scammers use cruel tactics to lure their victims into believing they have an emotional connection, and then use this to blackmail them. They are experts in manipulation.

You should contact your bank immediately if you think you have fallen for a scam and report it to a cybercrime organisation such as Action Fraud and your local Police force.