NordVPN Research: Romance Scams are Common in the UK

These sorts of scams involve a fraudster taking on a fake identity and feigning romantic interest for financial gain...

romance scams

A recent NordVPN survey shows that romance scams have targeted 12% of Brits who’ve dated online. In this article, we’ll explain these types of scams and how to protect yourself against them. Let’s get going, shall we?

Romance scam 101

This scam happens when a criminal adopts a fake online identity and tricks the victim into believing they’re genuinely interested in a romantic relationship. After forming a bond with the victim, the scammer typically manipulates them into sending money or performing other financial favors. Unsurprisingly, romance scams tend to occur on dating sites but can also happen on messaging apps or social media platforms.

The criminal often talks about his/her “feelings” for the victim while painting the details of their future life together. Heck, they may even propose marriage if it could work for them.

Alas, the criminal isn’t there for the long haul and will break the relationship as soon as they can pull out enough money from the unsuspecting victim. To that end, they will make up stories and ask for money or other financial favors.

And since the victim is emotionally invested in the “relationship,” they may believe this fiction and offer money to the criminal.

Romance scams have targeted twelve percent of Brits

According to a NordVPN survey, one in eight Brits who have dated online (12%) have been targeted by a romance scam.

The average UK victim lost a massive £3,517 to online dating fraud, with romance scams stealing as much as £4,622 and phishing scams netting £2,851.

Among those who had dated online, one in six (17%) interacted with a profile that turned out to be fake or a bot. Also, the same proportion reported receiving indecent images without requesting them.

All this has prompted a third (33%) of the respondents to agree that dating apps don’t do enough to verify their users. Furthermore, 35% felt that the number of fake profiles and bots on dating sites is growing.

Like that’s not enough, one in six (16%) respondents reported receiving more spam emails after signing up for an online dating app or website, while 7% of those who had used an online dating service said they were stalked online.

These are scary figures, my friend, and we’re here to help you not to fall victim to a romance scam. So first, let us talk more about it, so you can recognize one when you see it.

5 signs of a romance scam

There are (at least) 5 signs of a romance scam you should know about. They include:

1. Hot profile. Scammers tend to create attractive profiles to get the victims’ attention. The general rule is that if a profile looks too good to be true, chances are that is indeed the case. So, make sure to do your research before clicking/tapping that “Connect” or “Message” button. Search for the person in Google and see what comes up.

2. Too much devotion. Romance takes time and, we would argue, physical vicinity. If someone shows too much devotion in an early stage of communication – it’s a red flag. Take your time, and don’t be fooled by someone falling into you after just a few text chats.

3. Refusing to meet in person. You should ask to meet in person after a few chats because scammers don’t and even can’t do it. Instead, they come up with a number of excuses to avoid meeting you. They have “travel for work” or are “swamped at the moment.” This is another red flag.

4. Poor grammar. This isn’t necessarily a red flag as many folks use mobile dating apps and have to touch-type their chat messages. Still, since many scammers live in non-English-speaking areas, they tend to write bad English. So make sure to note how they use their words and whether what they write makes much sense. In this case, it’s form over function.

5. Financial requests. Finally, scammers are in this for the money and the moment they ask for it, you should stop all communication with them. Romance should not be about money.

Protecting yourself from romance scams

As we are always saying, the best defense against most of today’s scams is to use your brain. You’ll want to re-think what you’re doing online and pace yourself. In most cases, nothing bad will happen if you don’t reply quickly. Here are a few things you could do:

  • Review your privacy settings. Scammers are getting better with their social engineering skills and will get to know their victims before contacting them. In that sense, they may use the public information about you (what you share on social media) to present themselves as similar (thus more likable). Make sure that the things you share on Facebook and elsewhere are only visible to the people you’re connected to — as opposed to everyone.
  • Don’t share personal details. Don’t share it on Facebook, Instagram, and any other platform. Also, don’t share any personal data with someone you’re dating online without first meeting that someone in person. Scammers can take advantage of any data point you can provide them. So go easy with sharing those details.
  • Use only respectable dating platforms. There are all kinds of dating sites out there, but you’ll want to stick to those that have been in business for a while. In other words, go for the big ones in the business to serve their customers properly and won’t easily give away their details.
  • Go slow. We’ve already mentioned this, but it’s worth repeating. There is no need to rush things out. Instead, you are the one asking more questions; that’s like turning things around for the scammer, typically the one asking the questions — to find the point that he/she could use against you.
  • Don’t send or receive money. Sometimes a scammer will ask you to receive some money for him and then ask you for a portion of that money back. That could also be a scam as he/she could use a stolen credit card to get some money out of it. In such a scenario, you could be in more trouble than you want. Again, this has nothing to do with the money, so keep it out of the picture.

What to do if you’ve been scammed?

If you think you’re dealing with a scammer, you should act ASAP. Here’s what you can do:

1. Stop all contact. If you’ve already sent them some money, you can hardly get it back. Stop all engagement in the app.

2. Report the incident on the dating app. You’ll want to know what resources you can tap into from the dating app/service you’re using. Some of them have policies to help their users — and this is why you should only use reputable dating services.

3. Keep records of your communications. You will need all the details when you report the incident to the authorities. Which brings us to the final point…

4. Report the incident. In the UK, there is Action Fraud – the national reporting center for fraud and cybercrime. The information you provide could help stop the scammer from taking advantage of anyone else.

Survey methodology

NordVPN findings come from a survey of 2,000 UK adults. An external agency conducted the survey between 20 and 24 January 2023, asking respondents questions about online dating and scams. The results have been weighted to be representative of UK adults.

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