Romance in a digital COVID era

Romance in a digital COVID era

16th December 2020

This year has changed the way we live our lives, and currently, our future looks very different to the one we perhaps envisaged this time last year.

Our government and chief medical advisors have this year combined to tell us when we’re are allowed to go out, where we can and can’t spend our money and where we can go and who with, making meeting up with family or friends very difficult and as for those looking for love; near-on impossible.

Casting our minds back to Monday 23rd March 2020, Boris Johnson announced live on the BBC that to slow the outbreak and spread of Covid-19, the British public must stay at home [except for key workers] restricting families and friends from meeting one another for the sake of the nation.

Six days later, the online dating platform Tinder records 3 billion swipes worldwide - the most ever recorded in a single day, thus suggesting that in these constricted times, more and more [people] are instead turning towards forming new relationships online.

However, there is a growing threat with online dating known as “Romance-Fraud”.

This is the engineering of a friendship or relationship that is used for fraudulent, financial gain through either a grooming period or through identity theft. It sees fraudsters preying on the vulnerable and destroying the confidence and lives of both men and women.

When you sign up to a form of online dating, you may be looking for companionship, maybe following a divorce or the previous loss of a loved one, you may even be looking for more, perhaps in the form of a relationship. But how do you know that the person on the other end of the chat is actually who they say they are and have genuine similar intentions to your own?

Fraudsters on dating platforms will look to gain their victim’s trust, they will create fake profiles using a photo that isn’t actually of them but is that of a model, this is known as “catfishing”.

The use of images of another ‘real’ person could be used to create a fake account also – a fraudster will try finding out as much information as they can about their victim in what may seem like a genuine interest whilst at the same time, not giving much of their own information away.

The information gained, such as your name, where you live (address) and when you were born could all be used for identity fraud whereby credit is taken out in your name by a fraudster.

If identity theft isn’t their bag, maybe simply conning you out of your own money is! Chatting away to someone new online can be exciting, it can feel a little mysterious and new. The attention may make you feel a sense of worth following whatever loss was experienced previously in your life, you may feel wanted again in striking up this new online relationship.

Time will slip away beneath you as you realise you’ve been chatting for a while when suddenly the one that could be the person of your dreams asks you move to texting or email for conversing as opposed to sticking with the dating platform messaging service and as they draw you in and win your trust - you agree.

From there the fraudster may invent a reason to ask for your help; it could be that they claim that they are located somewhere that they are desperate to get away from for whatever reason, albeit a threat within a country, or maybe it’s to release them from their armed forces contract or it could even be a falsified investment opportunity…

However, the fraudsters, won’t always ask you directly for your money, some may prey on your sympathies in the hope that you will offer to pay for the treatment of an ill relative, or that you will send money to replace their stolen plane ticket for them to travel to come and meet you for the first time - all of which aren’t actually real.

Don’t be struck off the thought of using a dating site however, there are steps you can take to make sure you don’t become a victim of romance fraud:

  • Perform a reverse image search – uploading an image into a search engine that then produces results of websites where the image or similar images are found. There is a link for how to perform this here
  • Be wary of giving out personal information
  • Fraudsters may claim that they have high profile jobs that require them to work away a lot and give this as a reason not to meet up
  • Stay on the dating platform messaging service rather than using phone, text or email
  • Fraudsters may ask you for money, or ask you purchase goods, or even move goods on for them – you could fall victim to being involved in criminal activity – therefore, never agree to do this
  • As well as asking you for money, they may ask you to receive money from them and pass on to someone else, this could be a form of money laundering and again, could involve you in committing a criminal offence

If you believe you may be or have been a victim of romance fraud, don’t be ashamed to speak up, the fraudsters behind this crime can be very clever and extremely convincing.

Report it by calling 0300 123 2040 Monday to Friday 8am - 8pm

Or online at

https://reporting.actionfraud.police.uk/reporting

Facts and figures

  • Romance scams increased – up by 64% in the first half of 2019 on the year before
  • In 2018 – Action Fraud revealed that £50,766,602 was lost to romance fraud
  • In the first half of 2019 – UK Finance data showed that £7.9 million was lost to romance fraud
  • In 2018 – an average of £11,145 was lost per victim through romance fraud – an increase of 27% on 2017
Ben
Ben Barrett - Cyber Security Consultant