Romance fraud is when people are defrauded into sending money to criminals who have gained their trust and convinced them that they are in a genuine relationship
Romance scammers tricked people out of £90million last year as criminals broke hearts and bank balances.
Ahead of Valentine’s Day tomorrow, research has revealed an epidemic of love seekers falling victim to crime. Romance fraud is when people are defrauded into sending money to criminals who have gained their trust and convinced them that they are in a genuine relationship.
In 2023, £88,312,382 was lost according to figures from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau released to the Liberal Democrats. That is nearly £242,000 every day. On average, those falling victim to fake romances are losing more than £10,000 each. Scams targeting love seekers have been increasing, with 8,608 reports of romance fraud made across England and Wales in 2023 – up 8% from the number of reports in 2022.
Reports of romance scams involving male victims jumped by 40% between 2022 and 2023, according to separate analysis by Nationwide. The building society’s found women lose more than men, with the average 2023 claim for women standing at £10,610, compared with an average of £8,181 for men.
Criminals’ tactics can include pretending to send a victim a gift from overseas and then forcing them to send them fake customs fees, or pretending to be in the military and claiming bogus army payments. Romance scammers are also using tactics such as putting pressure on victims to make fake insurance claims, the The Insurance Fraud Bureau yesterday warned.
Lib Dem Home Affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael, who uncovered the data, said: “Finding love in the age of online dating is hard enough without the real fear of being left with both a broken heart and a broken bank balance. People searching for a partner to share their life with deserve to feel confident that they aren’t falling victim to cruel fraudsters. Instead, thanks to this Conservative government’s sheer incompetence and their failure to crack down on online scams, these fraudsters can vanish into the sunset with eye watering sums of money while leaving a trail of devastation behind them.”
Campaigner Anna Rowe, who set up Catch the Catfish six years ago after being a victim of a romance scam, said interest in romance fraud has “rocketed” in the last year. “I must stress that in the past year I have seen a huge change when we’ve been talking to police. There’s still a long way to go with some police forces but there’s more and more that I hear all the time where excellent work is being done and that’s really encouraging,” she said.
“The ones that aren’t so forthcoming to the banks. Their response to victims can be really damaging – sometimes making out that they’re the fraudsters and blocking their accounts, when they’re clearly victims.”
Ms Rowe has since also co-founded LoveSaid with Cecilie Fjellhøy, who featured in the Netflix documentary The Tinder Swindler, which told the story of Israeli conman Simon Leviev who scammed women out of millions of dollars. The organisation supports people who think they may have been defrauded and delivers training to police and financial institutions on romance fraud.
Lisa Mills, Romance Fraud Expert at the charity Victim Support said: “Romance fraud is remarkably common – but sadly there’s a lot of shame and stigma around it. We’ve supported people who have lost life changing amounts of money but are too embarrassed to tell their friends or family what has happened.
“Others have become too afraid to go back online or have stopped wanting to leave their house altogether. People need to understand that romance fraudsters are skilled manipulators. Those who are targeted must never blame themselves.”
The government has this week launched an anti-fraud campaign to help people protect themselves against crime. The Stop! Think Fraud campaign, which started on Monday, includes a new website with fraud safety advice and adverts on billboards, broadcast and social media.
Fraud accounts for approximately 40% of all crime in England and Wales, at a cost of £6.8billion to society, the Home Office said. A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Valentine’s Day provides an opportunity to raise awareness of a deceitful and distressing crime type, but romance fraud happens throughout the year and we encourage everyone to familiarise themselves with our campaign’s safety advice.”
But Labour’s Attorney General Emily Thornberry said: “Under this Tory Government there has been an almost eightfold increase in the amount of fraud, from around 400,000 offences per year to 3.2 million, and the losses to the UK as a whole have grown from £38.4billion per year to £219billion. After 14 years spent sleepwalking through the escalation of the crisis, launching an ad campaign in response is the definition of too little, too late.”
If you think you have been a victim of romance fraud, visit victimsupport.org.uk where you can get in touch via live chat or by calling a free 24/7 Supportline.