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14 Feb 2020

Valentine's Day scam warning: one in five asked for cash by online date

Men were more likely to be asked for money by a fraudster than women

On the most loved-up day of the year, you might be tempted to renew your hunt for a soulmate using online dating. But be wary of fraudsters. New figures show one in five who use online dating has been asked for or given money to someone they met over the internet.

More than quarter of men were asked for money compared with one in seven women, with the average amount of requested or handed over totalling £321, according to a UK Finance survey.

Worryingly, the data also shows that £7.9m was lost to online romance scams in the first half of 2019, an increase of 50% on the previous year.

Online dating has become a quick and convenient way to search for love. However, while it may seem like you've found a match, if they ask you for money, they may well be a sophisticated con artist.

Here, Which? explains how to avoid falling victim to an online romance scam in your hunt for the perfect partner.

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What is an online romance scam?

Romance scams happen when people are deceived on online dating sites/apps into 'false' relationships by fraudsters who aim to steal their money or personal information.

Typically, these will be carried out by people using fake profiles who then try to earn people's trust by playing on their emotions.

They then get the victim to send money or hand over enough personal information to steal their identity.

When we asked our Facebook community their experience of dodgy online dating we heard about how one con plays out on eHarmony, a paid-for dating service.

Dee, from West Berkshire, told Which?: 'I had multiple guys on eHarmony that, after opening their first approach with many effusive words about how interesting/attractive my profile looked, would then go on to say:

“I feel as though you are the one for me, but my membership expires today, so please email me on ...... so that we can communicate”.

'Of course, I knew this was the start of a scam, so reported & blocked each time.'

What are the warning signs of a romance scam?

The warning signs may be hard to miss for these types of scams as emotions can cloud judgement and some fraudsters have extremely sophisticated methods of charming and then deceiving victims.

However, there are some signs that can help you spot a con artist. Here are some of the red flags to watch out for:

  • The perfect person with flawless good looks asks to communicate with you through instant messaging and texts rather than the online platform where you met.
  • In a short space of time, they express strong emotions for you and say something along the lines of 'I have never felt this way before'.
  • They ask loads of questions about you but don't tell you a lot about themselves.
  • You never get to meet them in person. They may promise to see you but either cancel every time or offer excuses which delay you meeting up with them.
  • They then pretend to need money once they think they've earned your trust for some sort of personal emergency, or tell you they need the money to visit you.

Which? put together a video last year with a romance scam victim. You can hear Sharon's story to learn how a romance scam could play out.

How to check if a dating profile is fake

If someone has raised your suspicions, there are a number of things you can look out for to see if their profile is fake.

You should check if their profile picture looks realistic. Professional photos, for example, could be a red flag especially if they look like a supermodel.

There is an app called TinEye, which tracks where your images appear online that can help you to check the legitimacy of profile pictures. It uses recognition technology to see if there are matches to the photo anywhere else on the internet.

You should also check that the profile on the dating platform is consistent with what you've been told. Watch out for the small details about their job, lifestyle, education and the description of themselves.

Another tell-tale sign is the language they use. Maybe they've told you they have a Masters or PHD but use incredibly poor spelling and grammar in their messages to you.

How to protect yourself from being scammed

It's important you don't share your personal information with anyone you've met on an online dating platform.

This includes any banking details, such as which bank you're with, and any answers to security questions like your mother's maiden name or the name of your first pet.

In your own profile, don't include your last name, email address, home address, phone number, place of work or any other identifying information.

If you hand over any of these details you could be at risk of identity theft.

You could also create and use a unique email address different from your personal or professional addresses when setting up a dating profile, or amend this information if you already have one set up.

We would advise you to never send money to anyone you meet through an online dating platform, even if they are extremely convincing. If anyone asks you for money, alarm bells should ring.

It could be a good idea to tell friends and family you're talking to someone online, and let someone know if you're asked for money. If you're emotionally invested, this could provide you with an objective viewpoint to stop you getting conned.

How to report an online romance scam

If you've been scammed by someone you met online, contact your bank immediately and report it to the website/app.

Make sure you keep copies of the conversations that you can use as evidence.

You should also tell the police, and contact Action Fraud, the UK's national fraud and crime reporting centre.

It's worth mentioning that online dating platforms aren't liable for losses you incur while using them, unless you can argue the service wasn't provided with reasonable care and skill, or there were checks the website said it would carry out and didn't.

It's important to remember you shouldn't feel embarrassed if you've fallen victim to an online romance scam.

If you are a victim and you feel you need support after going through something like this you can contact Samaritansor other victim support charities.