More people than ever before are falling victim to romance fraud, with recent figures suggesting that reports increased by 30% last year¹.
What is romance fraud?
Essentially, romance fraud involves organised criminals pretending to like an individual romantically in order to con them out of money.
The scammers work by messaging and calling their victims for weeks, if not months, to gain their trust. When they believe they have achieved this, they will share believable stories in order to request money. But because the victims believe they are in a loving relationship, they often find it hard to say no and subsequently comply with the requests.
Last year alone, there were nearly 8,000 reports of romance fraud, with victims losing a whopping £88 million.2
The concern for finance institutions
Whilst romance fraud is not a new phenomenon, it is a growing one, and one that financial service providers are becoming particularly concerned about.
There has already been pressure on banks and financial service providers to implement processes that spot unusual customer behaviour, set rules about transfer limits and display warning messages about scams on money transfer pages.
But there is now also a push to report specific instances of romance fraud more widely and efficiently within national fraud databases. Here at Synectics Solutions for example, we are currently working on a project to redefine our Reasons for Filing for Finance within our proprietary fraud database, National SIRA, which would allow members to mark specific instances of romance fraud.
Our Fraud Strategy Consultant, Liese Rushton, has put together seven common warning signs for romance fraud, including a new one to watch for 2023.
What are the common red flags?
- Not all frauds stem from dating websites – in fact they’re far more likely to come from social media and online games. Words With Friends for example has become an attractive platform for scammers due to the older audience demographic drawn to the game who may sometimes be more vulnerable to scams than younger internet users.
- The scammer has usually moved overseas – this gives hope that a long-term romantic connection is possible as the person could move back home but puts distance between themselves and their victim to ensure meeting up in person is not possible.
- The scammer does not have a run of the mill job – their jobs will ensure that the relationship remains long-distance and might include:
- Medical support staff working on behalf of a charity or overseas missionaries
- Military personnel whose service has almost ended
- Oil rig workers
- Construction contractors
- They’ll open up about a tragic past early into the conversation – such stories usually revolve around the loss of a spouse due to an unexpected accident or position their children as being extremely unwell – or in some other form of immediate danger.
- Their profiles are a little… off – recent sign-up dates to the platform, overly formal profile pictures, names formatted back to front (e.g. Rushton Liese, indicating the name has been copied from elsewhere but the person in control of the account does not have a good grasp of the culture of the assumed identity).
- The scammer will ask to continue the conversation on a different platform – this is an essential step in the scam and ensures their account – which may be being used to talk to many victims simultaneously – is not flagged as spam. Popular moves will be to use WhatsApp or Google Hangouts, which offer encryption, facilitate photo and voice clip sharing without needing to create or maintain a realistic profile.
- Crypto – definitely one to watch for 2023. Most romance fraud will use a combination of the above profile traits to initiate contact with their victims, which will then be used to guilt-trip them into providing money. However, scammers can also appeal to a person’s ego by positioning themselves as someone from a higher social class or someone with high business acumen. Scammers may begin by introducing themselves as a semi-professional investor or a person with close business connections and secret market insight before inviting the victim to participate in small investments which receive returns. Once they have taken the bait, the scammer will suggest a much bigger investment into an emerging cryptocurrency, which they will take and then completely ghost their victim. This is sometimes called pig butchering - grim!
For further insight into fraud trends, you can contact Liese Rushton at email@example.com.
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