It’s high season for love – with online dating websites expected to rake in millions this week – but Brits are being warned to take extra care amid a rise in romance fraudsters.
One woman told the Mirror she was left £25,000 out of pocket by her ‘partner’ over a nine month period during which time he showered her with gifts, they exchanged photographs and often spoke on the phone.
The 37-year-old said she was lured into sending funds totalling over £25,000 to the man she met online – but had never seen in person.
It wasn’t until she attempted to re-mortgage her house to send her debt-ridden lover £30,000 that bank representatives raised the alarm – and police were called in.
Customer protection manager at Natwest, Neil Wainwright, told Sophie he believed she was a victim of financial abuse.
Her case was flagged by a branch worker at her local Natwest bank who raised concerns over her sudden request to remortgage her home.
"There were certain red flags," Neil explained.
Trying to complete her transaction, Sophie willingly showed staff the emails she’d received from her partner – but Neil said it just didn’t add up.
"I looked at the emails they exchanged and the rationale for sending the money just didn’t fit," he said.
"I told her that from all the information I’d gathered and from my experience, I believed she was being financially abused.
"She was in the process of re-mortgaging her house to send him another £30,000 – it nearly destroyed her life," he added.
"We work closely with our frontline colleagues and other specialist teams such as the fraud department.
"We encourage them to look for clues, to be curious and ask the next question. This might be about something a family member has said, or strange activity on a customer’s account. Sometimes they’ll just have a gut instinct that something’s wrong when serving a customer.
"Romance scams are particularly hard – it’s not only the financial loss, the customer also believes they have been in a relationship, sometimes for a number of years," explained Neil. "It’s the exact opposite to what they want to hear – especially from a complete stranger."
Last week Neil spoke to a customer who needed to transfer £7,000 to release some gold from Heathrow Airport.
"After I spoke to him, he realised the situation wasn’t genuine, but he said he’d still rather send the money in the hope that it was. He did take my advice and the police are now involved. That’s the most rewarding part of my job – keeping customers secure."
The rise of romance scammers
And romance scams are surging online.
Victims lost more than £50 million in total last year, according to Action Fraud, figures.
It said the average loss per victim in 2018 was £11,145 – a 27% increase on the previous year.
According to a further report by Barclays, almost half of daters admit they trust someone just two weeks after meeting online – however, 1 in 3 victims will lose more than £5,000.
‘I was tricked into sending him money for his real life wedding’
Josephine McGarry from Coventry moved to the UK in 2006 when she met her partner online.
"We met on a dating website and swapped phone numbers and we started talking over the phone," she explained.
"I had never met him but he shared photos with me over the phone and we continued this relationship while I was in the UK for five years. He lived in Ghana.
"When I called him he was always busy, however on one occasion, a woman picked up who he said was his sister. I didn’t question it. I told my mum about him but when I said that I had been sending him money she wanted to meet him.
"They did in fact meet a couple of times in Ghana, but on one occasion my mum went to his house and found out the woman he lived with was in fact his wife and not sister."
Josephine said she sent her partner money around once a month – usually small amounts.
The largest single transaction was £500 – however she later found out this was to pay for his own wedding in Ghana.
"I sent him money around once a month, but altogether I sent him roughly £2,000," she said.
When Josephine finally confronted him about his marriage, he tried to convince her it was a conspiracy against him.
It then transpired that he was also using a fake name.
"It is very difficult as a lot of people are genuine and I know people who have had the best results from meeting their partners on a dating website," she told Mirror Money.
You need to have your wits about you and ensure they are genuine before agreeing to send them money."
What is romance fraud?
Romance fraud happens when someone is tricked into thinking they have met a partner online, only to be scammed out of money once the criminal has gained their trust.
Fraudsters may pretend to be someone they are not, using fake photos, being reluctant to meet up in person and inventing emotional stories for why they need large sums of cash.
Those targeted may initially feel they are being swept up in a grand romance, with fraudsters flattering their victims and putting them under pressure so they do not have time to stop and think.
In 2018, £50,766,602 was lost to this sort of scam, with 4,555 reports of romance fraud made to Action Fraud.
But with some people feeling too embarrassed to report fraud, the true scale of romance scams could be much bigger.
Barclays’ top tips for preventing romance scams
When connecting with people online, get to know them and trust your instincts. Act with caution and learn more about someone before contacting him or her outside of the dating site.
Take your time, especially when talking about yourself. You don’t need to give out your life story the first time you chat – and you shouldn’t.
Be responsible and do your own research to learn more about someone and make informed decisions before you decide to meet. Check to see if the person you’re interested in is on other social networks, do a web search to see if there are other records of the person online, and if possible, use a search engine search to check the profile photos.
Always keep your bank and account information private. There is no reason for anyone to ask you for money or your financial information.
Report unacceptable or suspicious behaviour, trust your instincts and immediately stop communicating with anyone who makes you feel uncomfortable or apprehensive.
What to do if you think you’re a victim of fraud
Action Fraud says these are the signs that someone is trying to scam you:
- Someone asking a lot of questions but giving nothing about themselves away
- Asking for money or goods such as an iPad or iPhone
- Asking to send money to your bank account
If you’ve handed over sensitive information or are suspicious about what you may have shared, get in touch with Action Fraud to report it immediately.
You can contact Action Fraud via its website or by phoning 0300 123 2040. Alternatively you can call police on the non-emergency number 101.
If you believe your financial details may be at risk, call your bank who will be able to freeze any transactions.
Never share details with someone that’s called you out of the blue. If you want to report a concern, use the number on the back of your card instead.
"Banks are always looking out for any suspicious transactions, but we need customers to be on the guard against suspicious approaches too," explained Katy Worobec, head of economic crime at UK Finance .
"We are urging customers to be vigilant against romance scams and to always be wary of any requests for money from someone you’ve never met in person. If you think you may have fallen victim to a romance scam, contact your bank straight away and report it to Action Fraud."
Scams to be aware of
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