More than half (55%) of people who use online dating services are leaving themselves vulnerable to being scammed, by trusting that the person they are in contact with is who they say they are before meeting in real life.
This is the warning from UK Finance, a trade association for the UK banking and financial services sector, which recently commissioned a study into online dating.
With romance scams on the rise – up 64% in the first half of 2019 compared to the same period the year before – the association is warning singles that not everything is always as it seems.
Romance scams involve criminals persuading victims to make a payment to them after meeting, often online through dating sites, and convincing them they are in a relationship.
According to the UK Finance survey, one in five (21%) of people using online dating services say that they have either been asked for money or have given money to someone that they met online. Men (26%) were more likely to be asked for money than women (15%).
The average amount of money that was requested or given was £321, although some respondents were asked for greater sums. UK Finance data showed that £7.9 million was lost to romance scams in the first half of 2019 – an increase of 50% on the previous year.
Katy Worobec, MD of Economic Crime at UK Finance, said: “Romance scams are both emotionally and financially damaging for victims. The popularity of online dating services has made it easier for criminals to target victims, so we urge everyone to be cautious this Valentine’s.
“Although banks are always looking out for suspicious activity, customers must be on their guard and protect themselves too. Always be wary of requests for money from someone you’ve never met in person. If you think you’ve been the victim of a romance scam, contact your bank immediately.”
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The survey also found that more than a quarter (27%) of respondents said they had been ‘catfished’ in the last 12 months, a scam where someone using online dating services adopts a fake persona or picture. Men were more likely to say they had been catfished (33%) than women (20%).
The majority of people using online dating do their research before meeting in real life. Two-thirds (70%) exchanged text or WhatsApp messages with the other person before meeting, while more than half (54%) performed a social media search. 49% spoke to the other person on the phone, and one in five (22%) performed a Google search on the other person before meeting. 4% said they would do nothing in particular.
UK Finance tips to avoid romance scams:
- Be suspicious of any requests for money from someone you have never met in person, particularly if you have only recently met online.
- Speak to your family or friends to get advice.
- Profile photos may not be genuine, do your research first.
- Contact your bank straight away if you think you may have fallen victim to a romance scam.