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Lovelorn and conned: Don't give your heart to a fraudster this Valentine's

Sehrish Alikhan

Sehrish Alikhan

Reporter, Finextra

Valentine’s Day celebrates romance and gives couples an opportunity to showcase their love, but also exposes lonely souls to getting their hearts broken in more ways than one. Financial fraudsters are targeting the lovelorn as romance scams are set to surge on the fated day of love (and heart-shaped consumerism).

Love statistics: How Valentine’s Day has become a scammer’s playground

Lonely hearts got even lonelier after the lockdown; that’s according to data released by Lloyd’s and TSB that found romance scams to increase by 91% post-pandemic. Lloyd’s found that while people over the age of 45 were most at risk of being scammed, there were significant losses for those aged 18-24 and even more to those between 25 and 34.

Metro Bank warns against Valentine’s Day scammers, reporting a 43% increase in romance scams between 2021 and 2022. The study revealed that swindlers gained £16 million through romance cons in the first half of 2022, indicating that this year swindlers will be as active as ever.

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Centre reported that 24,000 Americans fell victim to romance scams in 2021, losing approximately $1 billion. The same year a trend in cryptocurrency scams was popular among fraudsters, who accessed victims through dating apps and social media and directed them to make false investments in cryptocurrencies.

A report by UK Finance found that scammers take over eight payments per case, convincing victims to transfer them small amounts of money over a long period of time. TSB observed that the average fraudulent relationship lasts 62 days and more than a third begin on Facebook.

Head of fraud and investigations at Metro Bank, Baz Thompson, cautions online daters against fraudsters, stating: “You cannot underestimate how callous and unfeeling these types of scammers are – no matter how charming they initially appear. Just like a real relationship, they are prepared to invest time and patience in getting to know you to make you feel that you are in a real relationship, but it is always with a payday in their sights.

“Victims will be asked to pay for a laundry list of items including emergency travel costs or for tickets to fly to see victim, medical bills, temporary loans until ‘inheritance’ comes through, bills/living costs.  These will not necessarily be for large amounts, but regular and persistent requests for support.”

The most common scams during Valentine’s Day 2022 included catfishing on dating apps, phishing fraud, and social media shopping cons. On dating apps such as Hinge, Bumble, Tinder, and Grindr, tricksters would request funds from matches. Phishing scams occur throughout the year, but on Valentine's Day victims received advertisements and emails for holiday destinations, gifts for their significant others, and other online shopping promotions that enticed them to click on email links and steal data. On social media such as Facebook and Instagram, many lost money to fake online retailers.

How to improve your financial literacy to avoid romantic scams

Romance fraud is crushing, humiliating, and heart-breaking for the victim – those looking for someone special close to Valentine’s Day already have low morale that hits rock bottom when they realise that what they believed to be an honest emotional connection is actually a crook looking to wheedle out their private thoughts and use them to steal their credit card information. Police officers in North Ireland stated that there were 80 scams in North Ireland alone in 2021, with one woman conned out of £130,000 pounds. They implied that there were more scams likely afoot, but with victims too embarrassed to report them.

Maintaining financial literacy is important not only to safeguard your assets and your self-esteem, but studies indicate that it can also improve your love life. Drawing from a spending survey conducting prior to Valentine’s day, WalletHub analyst, Jill Gonzalez, stated that romantic partners find having a stable credit score and being financially-educated highly attractive.

“Single people who have a problem with overspending or who have bad credit might want to work on improving their financial situation before trying to date,” said Gonzalez. “Some of the best first steps to take include increasing the amount of money you save or use to pay off debts, making fewer non-essential purchases and sticking to a budget. You should also monitor your credit score and credit report on a regular basis, as well as look for ways to boost your income. Taking time to improve your finances may lead to better romantic prospects.”

How can you avoid giving your heart away to a fraudster this Valentine’s?

Experts suggest:

  1. Do not transfer money to anyone you have not met in person.
  2. Do your research after meeting someone online – check their other social media and ensure that they seem like a real person.
  3. Consider scams a possibility when interacting with people online.
  4. Ask trusted third parties for advice before making any commitments.

Kate Frankish, chief business development officer and anti-fraud lead at Pay.UK clarifies: “Creating barriers and raising prompts at the key decision-making points is another effective way of preventing fraud. Tools, such as Confirmation of Payee, allow people to check if the name on the bank account matches the name they are given. This is helpful because it can help the victim take the pause, verify the information they are given and reconsider what they are about to do.”

Thompson furthered that red flags that can indicate potential fraudulent activity; if they refuse video calls or meeting in-person, request funds, ask lots of personal questions but give disingenuous answers in return, and if the bond formed seemed too easy or too fast.

“These scams are not uncommon, however given the digital world we live in, anonymity is normal - rather than unusual,” Thompson observed.

Love can be a fickle fiend, but let’s aim to keep it figurative rather than literal this Valentine's Day and stay vigilant.

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