Which? scam alerts
Sign up for a Which? Scam alert to get what you need to know about the latest scams, whether it’s a new phishing email or a phoney HMRC call.
With more than 60 years experience fighting scams and protecting consumers this free service from Which? is available for everyone.
What is a romance scam?
A romance scam is when someone grows to love and trust someone they’ve met through an online dating site, social media or a dating app.
But the profile is fake and the dating scammer uses the person’s trust by playing on their emotions.
They then get the victim to send money or handover enough personal information to steal their identity.
1 How dating and romance scams work
Scammers may take several months to build what may feel like the romance of a lifetime and can even pretend to book travel to visit you, but they never actually arrive.
Once they have gained your trust and your defences are down, they will ask you, either subtly or directly, for money, gifts, or your banking or credit card details.
Often, scammers will pretend that they need the money for some sort of personal emergency or insist they need the money to travel to visit you.
Asking for money before they’ve met you is a telltale sign of a romance scammer and should set alarm bells ringing.
Romance scammer tactics
Scammers will go to great lengths to gain your interest and trust. Romance scammer tactics include:
- showering you with loving words
- sharing apparently personal information
- sometimes even sending you gifts.
Military romance scams
It’s common for romance scammers to pose as a soldier serving in the military as this gives them a good excuse as to why they can’t meet you in person. It’s also a good way to try and win your sympathy.
If you’re dating someone who claims to be in the military, you can offer to give them a call, organise a video chat or send them a letter as they should have a number, internet connection and mailing address.
If the person refuses, this should make you suspicious.
2 Know the signs of a romance scammer
- They want to communicate with you through instant messaging and texts rather than through the dating website where you met.
- The new love of your life has supermodel good looks in the pictures they send you.
- They express strong emotions for you in a very short space of time.
- They ask you lots of questions about yourself but don’t tell you much about themselves.
- They start asking you to send them money. They’ll pretend they need money from you for some sort of personal emergency or insist they need the money so they can travel to visit you.
3 How to check if a dating profile is fake
Check the profile picture looks realistic. Professional photos should be a red flag - especially if they look like a model. Look for amateur photos and check if they have more than one.
A helpful Which? member recommended using tineye.com to check the legitimacy of profile pictures on dating websites.
This website allows you to upload photographs and uses recognition technology to see if there are matches to the photo anywhere else on the internet.
Check that the profile on the dating website is consistent with what you’ve been told. For example, make sure the profile picture doesn’t look different to their description of themselves.
Another tell-tale sign is language. Has your ‘date’ told you they are university educated, but their English is very poor?
4 How to spot fake profiles
We asked 1,000 dating-website users how they identify fake profiles, and they told us they are suspicious if:
- they ask you to send them money (50%)
- they ask you for too much personal information (41%)
- they use poor grammar or language, despite claiming to be a native speaker (40%)
- you’re invited to connect on a different website (36%)
- they ‘fall in love’ with you too quickly (33%).
Half of respondents also said that they trust their gut feeling when identifying a fake profile.
5 Don’t share personal details
If you’re talking to someone you’ve contacted online, be careful not to share your personal information.
This includes credit card details and details such as which bank you’re with, your pet’s name or your mother’s maiden name, which could be used to access financial information.
In your profile, don’t include your last name, email address, home address, phone number, place of work or any other identifying information.
If you handover these details, you could be at risk of identity theft.
6 Beware of moving too fast
Watch out for someone who wants to rush things. A fraudster will usually make the first move, and this will often come out of the blue.
Sometimes they will create a bogus, dreamy profile that sounds like the ideal mate you’ve described in your own dating profile.
They will try to play on your sympathy and strike when you are the most vulnerable.
Red flags should be raised if they want you to use instant messaging or email very soon after initially making contact, taking you away from the dating site where you originally met.
And be wary if someone online, after a short time of corresponding, professes strong feelings for you and asks to chat with you privately.
Use a different email address
Always create and use a unique email address different from your personal or professional addresses when setting up a dating website profile.
7 Don’t give them money
We would advise you to never send money to anyone you meet through an online dating website, no matter how convincing they appear to be.
And you certainly shouldn’t wire money to anybody, as there’s no audit trail. It’s like handing over cash – you won’t be able to get it back if it turns out to be a scam.
Romance scammers who are just looking after your money can appear desperate if you don’t send it straight away, and their emails or calls will become more persistent, direct or even aggressive.
And if you do send money, they will just keep asking you to send more, as they will view you as an ‘easy target’.
If anyone does ask you for money, alarm bells should ring immediately, and you should report this to the dating website.
Finally, never click on a link within an email, as this could be an also intended to extract money from you in some way.
8 Report fake profiles on dating sites and apps
Common fake profiles will use the details of trusted individuals, such as military personnel, aid workers, medical professionals or professionals working abroad, as well as pictures from other legitimate websites.
Be alert for anybody you’re talking to who disappears from the site and you suspect may later have reappeared under a different name.
Different websites have different policies for reporting profiles, although not all of them vet profiles or moderate content.
If you think a profile is fake or suspicious, check the website for details on how to report it and follow the process.
Usually, there will be links or buttons on profiles to block or report individuals.
9 Tell loved ones you’re using a dating website
Don’t be afraid to tell people you trust that you’re talking to someone online – more than six million UK adults visit dating sites each month.
Let someone know if you’re asked for money. The objective viewpoint they can offer is crucial if you’re emotionally involved.
10 Report an online dating scammer
If you’ve been scammed for money from someone you met online, inform the website immediately.
Also consider contacting the police to report it. You should also report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud and crime reporting centre.
Dating websites usually aren’t liable for losses you incur while using them, unless you can argue that the service wasn’t provided with reasonable care and skill, or there were checks the website said it would carry out and didn’t.
For more tips, see our reporting a scam.