UK Finance reveals rise in romance scams during lockdown

There was a 20% increase in bank transfer romance fraud between January and November in 2020 compared to the previous year, new data from UK Finance has revealed.

The total value of these scams rose by 12% to £18.5m, with the average loss per victim reported to UK Finance members reaching £7,850.

Highlighting the significant impact this type of fraud can have on victims’ finances, the banking body has urged the public to be vigilant and keep friends and family safe from romance scams this Valentine’s Day.

Romance scams involve people being duped into sending money to criminals who have gained their trust and convinced them that they are in a genuine relationship. UK Finance suggested they use language to manipulate, persuade and exploit so that requests for money do not raise alarm bells.

The rise in romance scams comes as more people have turned to online dating during 2020 due to social distancing restrictions. Figures from the Online Dating Association (ODA) estimate that over 2.3 million people in the UK used dating apps during the first lockdown.

“With the rising use of online dating service users during lockdown, criminals are using clever tactics to exploit people who think they’ve met their perfect partner online,” commented UK Finance managing director of economic crime, Katy Worobec.

“Romance scams can leave customers out of love and out of pocket, but there are steps people can take to keep themselves or their family and friends safe – both on and offline. People can help their loved ones spot the signs of a scam, particularly as romance scammers can be very convincing by forming an emotional attachment with their victims.

“The banking and finance industry is working hard to protect customers from fraud, but everyone should remain vigilant to the risks of romance scams.”

Action Fraud also reported a rise in reports made by members of the public who have fallen victim to romance fraud in 2020, with total reported losses equating to over £68m.

In these reports, victims have lost money via bank transfer, money transfer, sending fraudsters gift cards and vouchers or presents such as phones and laptops, and providing them with access to their bank account or card.

Head of Action Fraud, Pauline Smith, added: “Last year, we sadly saw criminals exploit the coronavirus pandemic as a means to commit fraud, and romance fraud was no exception.

“The national lockdowns, and other restrictions on our social lives, implemented because of the coronavirus outbreak, have meant more people have been seeking companionship online and this has undoubtedly affected the number of reports we have seen.”

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