One in five people who use online dating services say they have been asked for or given money to someone they met over the internet, a survey has found.
The research was released by trade association UK Finance, which is warning people against romance scams as Valentine’s Day approaches on Friday February 14.
Around a fifth (21%) of people who go online to find dates say that they have either been asked for money or have given cash to someone that they met online.
The average amount of money that was requested or given was £321.
UK Finance data shows that £7.9 million was lost to romance scams in the first half of 2019, an increase of 50% on the previous year.
Classic hallmarks of romance fraud include criminals asking many personal questions about their victim and making over-the-top declarations of love within a short space of time. Often, fraudsters will invent a sob story for why they need some cash urgently, perhaps claiming their money has been stolen or that someone has fallen ill.
They may come up with excuses for why they cannot meet up in person and may also try to dissuade victims from discussing matters with friends and family.
They may also use fake pictures of actors or models to attract their victims – so it may be worth carrying out an online image search to see if the photo has been stolen from elsewhere.
Men were also more likely to say they had been catfished (33%) than women (20%), the survey of more than 2,000 people found.
People who authorise bank transfers to a scammer may find they lose their money for good – although many banks have signed up to a voluntary reimbursement code to make it easier for victims to get their money back in situations where neither they nor their bank is at fault.
UK Finance warned that over half (55%) of people who use online dating services could be 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.
Katy Worobec, managing director 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.”
Here are UK Finance’s tips to stay safe from romance scams:
1. Suspect any requests for money from someone you have never met in person, particularly if you have only recently met online.
2. Speak to your family or friends to get advice.
3. Profile photos may not be genuine, do your research first.
4. Contact your bank straight away if you think you may have fallen victim to a romance scam.