Imagine this scenario: you think you’ve found love online, only to realise later that you’ve been deceived by someone posing as the perfect partner. ‘Romance scams’ have become more common over the years, and some people have lost thousands of pounds to them. Find out how to spot the signs and help keep yourself safe.
What is a romance scam?
A romance scam is when someone you’ve met online (through social media platforms, dating websites, or gaming sites) uses a fake profile to convince you that they want to have a relationship with you. As time goes by, they will make you believe that you’ve got a real connection with them. Ultimately, the criminal will use details from your online profile and your conversations to build your trust over weeks or months. Their main aim is to convince you to send them money or reveal other personal information.
What is the impact of romance scams?
If you’re the target of a romance scam, you may feel hurt, betrayed, or even embarrassed. You might grieve the relationship you thought you had.
Anyone can be targeted by romance scammers. It can happen to you whether you’re in your 20s or whether you’re retired and taking money from a pension plan. Scammers often target people whose online profiles say they’re widowed or divorced.
Romance scams can have a big impact on your wellbeing and your money. In the last financial year, the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau received 8,036 reports of romance scams, with the victims losing an average of £11,500.
Losing any amount of money can be difficult to cope with, especially at a time when the cost of living is high.
What are the warning signs of a romance scam?
Here are some of the different signs to look out for if you’re chatting to someone online.
- A scammer might claim they love you or declare strong feelings for you very early on. They may be trying to build up your trust quickly, in the hopes they can get money sooner. They might ask lots of personal questions.
- They might suggest that you start chatting via email, text or instant messaging rather than staying on the platform you met on.
- They might make excuses as to why they can’t meet you in person or video call you.
- They might ask you for money and tell you it’s important they get financial help quickly to get them out of a troublesome situation. For example, they may say they have an urgent bill to pay, or they might tell you they’re in the army and need a flight home from wherever they’re deployed overseas.
- They might ask you not to speak about your relationship with anyone else, including your friends or family.
- Their profile might look too good to be true. They may have stolen other people’s pictures, often known as ‘catfishing’.
Some scammers might ask you for personal photos and use them as blackmail material, threatening to release the pictures if you don’t give them money. Others might encourage you to put money into phony investments.
How can you help keep yourself safe from romance scams?
Here are some tips to help you avoid romance scams.
Stop and think. Don’t send money to someone you haven’t met in person, even if they say it’s urgent. Be careful about giving personal information and contact details to someone you don’t know. Criminals can pass on your details to other criminals who might also target you.
Always consider the possibility that you could be speaking to a scammer. Not everyone is who they say they are. It’s best to not accept friend requests from people you don’t know. You might also want to look into doing a ‘reverse image search’, which can help you see if the person is using photos they’ve stolen from elsewhere on the web.
If you’ve met someone on a dating website, consider staying on that site’s messaging service (rather than moving to text, for example) until you know the person is who they say they are. It might be easier for you to report them there if need be.
You can visit the Take Five website for more things to keep in mind.
What can you do if you think you’ve been the victim of a romance scam?
If you think you’ve been the victim of a romance scam, get in touch with your bank as soon as you can. You can check for a legitimate contact number on the back of your bank statement. Report the scam to Action Fraud or, if you live in Scotland, call 101 to report it to the police.
If you’ve been scammed and you’re feeling overwhelmed, helplines like Samaritans are here to listen to you. You can contact Samaritans for free on 116 123 at any time.
It’s easier said than done but try not to feel embarrassed if you do end up losing money to a romance scammer. These scammers can be extremely convincing – and you’re not alone.
What if I’m worried about pension scams?
Got a Standard Life pension plan? If you’re concerned that a scammer has targeted or is trying to target it, you can get in touch with us by phone (find contact details on our website) or through our report-a-scam mailbox (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Again, if you’ve lost money to a scam, be sure to report it to Action Fraud, or to the police on 101 if you live in Scotland.
You can check out our website for more information on how to protect yourself against scammers.
The information here is based on our understanding in February 2024 and shouldn’t be taken as financial advice.
Standard Life accepts no responsibility for information in external websites. These are provided for general information.