13 February 2024
Watch out for Valentine's Day romance scams
If you’re looking for love this Valentine’s Day, then online may seem like the easiest place to find it – but please remember to remain vigilant when online dating.
While love is all around us at this time of year, if you’re currently single and looking to meet 'the one', be aware that, when it comes to online romance, not everyone is as nice as they may appear.
In recent years, TV shows like The Tinder Swindler on Netflix have highlighted the fact that online scammers sometimes take advantage of people looking for love online.
The act of catfishing – which involves setting up a false personal profile on a social networking site for fraudulent or deceptive purposes – is a common ploy they use. They then pretend to be romantically attracted to a victim by building up trust and then use manipulative and gaslighting tactics to demand money.
Many of us might be convinced that we could never fall for this type of scam but, sadly, it happens all too often, and victims are often scammed out of thousands of pounds.
According to the BBC, there were 7,660 romance fraud cases processed in England and Wales by a self-reporting tool last year, up 60% from 4,842 in 2019.
Here’s some advice on the kinds of things to watch out for:
Have you received an unexpected Facebook friend request, Instagram message, or WhatsApp?
In this digital age, scammers frequently use social media and messaging apps to target individuals, often using bogus photos and stories to lure them in. Examples include Facebook friend requests or messages from someone claiming to be a highly qualified professional, such as a lawyer, doctor, neurosurgeon, soldier, or even charity worker.
Fraudulent social media profiles will often show photos of the scammer in exotic locations, or helping others, but these photos have usually been copied from the internet and are not the person they claim to be. A reverse image search will often find where the image has been taken from.
Look out for false promises
These scams are often conducted over a long period of time, building up the victim's trust.
The scammer will often ‘live’ in a different country, explaining this is the reason they’re unable to visit, but promising to do so as soon as they can. They may promise lavish gifts and even offer to marry the victim, sending photos of the engagement ring they’ve apparently purchased.
Don’t be guilt-tripped into sending money
Though many people won’t even meet their scammer, they will frequently be willing to transfer them vast amounts of money in the hope of a relationship. In fact, Islanders have lost hundreds of thousands of pounds in recent years.
Once the trust is built, the scammer will ask for cash, often making the victim feel guilty if they don’t send the money. It may start with relatively small requests, such as to:
help pay for a hospital bill
pay for a child’s education
donate to a church fund
buy an iPhone or iPad to help keep in touch
pay for phone calls to keep in contact with you
pay for a ticket to visit you.
Then the bigger payment requests start, and this is where many victims lose thousands of pounds. The scammer may request:
money to put down a deposit on a house for you both
money to help them pay a large building or legal invoice that, if unpaid, could mean they’ll be jailed.
How to protect yourself from falling victim to a romance scam
Never send money to someone you haven’t met in person.
Remain sceptical and, if any warning signs appear, try to remove emotion from your decision, even if your ‘partner’ appears sincere.
Don’t feel guilty for refusing to make a payment and if they insist, stop all contact – they’re scamming you.
Don’t give out personal information, especially account details.
Do a reverse image search of your admirer’s photos. Often these romance scammers will steal other people’s photos, so these may be featured on a legitimate person’s social media. Go to Google and search ‘How to reverse image search’.
Watch out for inconsistencies in their story and grammar.
Be cautious about what photos or information you share with the person. They may use compromising photos or information as blackmailing material.
If you arrange to meet them in person, inform friends and family of where you are going.
Remember, anyone of any age, gender or sexuality is a target for these scams:
If you’ve fallen victim to romance fraud or catfishing, report it to the States of Jersey Police straight away on 612612.
The Jersey Consumer Council is a member of the Jersey Fraud Prevention Forum and more information can be found on their website.