Romance scams: what to watch out for

Considering signing up to a dating site? Make sure you don't get your heart broken (and lose your hard-earned cash) by falling for a romance scam.

The internet is littered with dating websites, from MySingleFriend, PlentyofFish and Match.com to Uniform Dating and smartphone app Tinder.

While these legitimate websites help to bring many people together every day, stories of online dating scams are a regular occurrence. 

Aside from the emotional heartache, these scams can have a devastating impact on victims' finances: more than £68 million was lost to romance fraud in 2020 alone, according to Action Fraud.

Many such scams aren't even reported to the police, largely because the victim is too embarrassed to come forward.

How to ensure you keep safe

The majority of fraudulent cases involve someone setting up a fake identity using stolen photos and pretending to start a relationship with their victim.

At some point during the relationship, they’ll ask for an urgent sum of money. 

To avoid falling victim to an online dating scam, there are several things you can do.

1. Keep your details private

Never share your financial details with someone you meet through an online dating website. Personal information, such as your date of birth, address and passwords should also be kept secret.

2. Choose your website carefully

When you sign up to a website, check the small print on how it verifies new users. Some, such as MySingleFriend.com, won't allow you to join until your profile has been verified by another person.

Others won't upgrade a membership until photos have been added, while apps like Tinder require you to add a phone number.

3. Be on your guard

If you’ve met someone through a dating website, it can be hard to tell if they’re genuine or not.

One thing that should set alarm bells ringing is if they ask you to transfer cash, especially if the reasons are vague and you’ve not actually met them in person.

Action Fraud warns that profile photos may not be genuine. You can perform a reverse image search, which can find photos that have been taken from someone else.

It’s also recommended that you speak to family or friends for advice.

Don’t ever send someone you don’t know money, transfer money on their behalf, take out a loan for them or allow them to access your bank account.

You should also never invest your own money on their behalf or advice, buy and send codes on gift cards or agree to receive and send parcels for them.

4. Report anything suspicious

Online dating fraud is a crime and should be reported to Action Fraud as soon as possible on 0300 123 2040, as well as your bank.

If you receive a suspicious email or message through a website, report it to the site for investigation.

5. Check your accounts

Keeping an eye on your bank accounts and credit card statements on a regular basis is a good way to watch out for any unusual payments.

A number of credit rating agencies offer you a free trial in order to check your credit record.

How to tell if you're talking to a scammer

While the above general tips should help reduce your chances of falling victim to a scam, we wanted to provide more specific information that will help you spot whether the person you're in contact with is a fraudster. 

These warning signs were provided by Chris Parker, founder of Whatsmyipaddress.com, for this Mail Online article:

  • They travel frequently for work, are posted overseas, or live abroad;
  • They declare their love early on and shower you with compliments;
  • They ask for money - even a small amount - for a tragic reason;
  • They look impossibly attractive;
  • They have no digital footprint;
  • You have TOO much in common;
  • They refuse video calls.

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More on scams:

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