The number of Romance scams have increased in the pandemic, with lonely singles looking for love in lockdown. According to Online Dating Association, more than 2.3 people in Britain have used dating apps during the coronavirus pandemic. With so many people now looking for love online, this has served a fantastic opportunity for scams to prey on singletons.

So, what exactly is Romance Fraud?

It’s when a criminal adopts a fake online identity to gain another person’s affection and trust. The scammer then uses the illusion of a romantic or close relationship to steal money from the victim.

The intentions of cybercriminal are to establish relationship with the victim as soon as possible and gain trust. They may ask for marriage and make plans to meet in person which may never happen. Eventually they may seek help for money

According to UK Finance, there has been a 20% hike in the number of bank transfer fraud cases resulting from romance scams.

With Valentine’s Day approaching this weekend, it’s important for many people to stay alert.

How are victims targeted?

Money laundering

Generally the victim loses money via money transfer or sending gift cards. Victims are usually forced to provide their bank details or credit card details to help their ‘loved’ ones..

Cybercriminals are professionals when it comes to sweet talking, and wooing their victims to reveal personal details by using emotional language to manipulate them. Most online scammers will talk about medical emergencies or a sudden death in the family, and will seek the victims help financially.

In many cases the bank account is emptied by the cybercriminals

ABC News reported on an Australian woman who thought she was falling in love with a US army officer but ended up laundering A$150,000 (£83,000) for such a gang.

Gift cards

Opening an electronic greeting card sent to your computer is “one of the easiest ways to invite malware onto your machine,” says Brenda Moretto, of online security company McAfee. Legitimate e-card notifications include a confirmation code that allows you to open the greeting at the card company’s website. If there’s  no card at that site, the message was a scam.

Identity theft

Cybercriminals often start initial talks on dating websites, before moving into the victim’s personal space like chatting with them on social media or whatsapp. Many times they don’t seek help for money but ask you more and more personal questions, which can later be used to steal their victim’s identity.

Like Luke who is in his 40’s and divorced met Tom on dating site and began to fall for him. After A few days they started chatting on Whatsapp and on the phone. A week later, Tom asked Luke for financial help, which amounted to $5000 due to a medical emergency in family. He started asking for help every now and then and the amount kept on increasing.

How to avoid getting caught up in Romance Scams

  1. If your love interest asks you to send money, be very suspicious.
  2. If your lover is going too fast in your relationship, pause and ask yourself – are they trustworthy?
  3. Don’t share your personal details too soon
  4. Don’t send or receive money
  5. Use trusted dating websites and Apps
  6. Avoid using webcam
  7. If in doubt report the scam

Websites meant for dating are pretty useful to make new friends and find love. But it’s always wise to be extra careful when dealing with life online.