It's February, a month of romance. You find yourself connecting with someone you recently met online. They seem perfect. Good-looking, nice, funny, they pay you lots of compliments, it all feels quite exciting. Then they message saying they're in some sort of trouble and need you to send them money. They seem panicked but you haven't actually met them in person yet so you're a bit hesitant about sending money. You tell them this and they get annoyed. Now you feel guilty for not helping them in their time of need. They tell you they love you, want to marry you, and make you promises for the future. You can't just not help them, not after the connection you've built together. This could be the love of your life and they've said they'd pay you back straight away. So, you send them the money. They ask for more. So, you send them more. This continues. Until, eventually, the conversation stops, and you never hear from them again. You're left confused, broken-hearted, and down a load of money. This is called Romance Fraud.
The online dating scene is ever-growing and now one of the most common ways to meet a romantic partner. Unfortunately, it's also a perfect playground for scammers to create fake profiles. Romance fraudsters aim to target and manipulate innocent people online through coercion and creating crisis stories to pull on people's heartstrings, all with the final goal of getting people to send them money.
The effects can be financially, emotionally, and psychologically devastating. Romance fraud can happen to anyone regardless of sexuality, gender identity, or age.
Mr X visited local Branch to make a number of international payments for charity donations. When making these transactions Mr X looked anxious as the transactions were unusual and the reason for the payments didn’t feel right, so the Branch staff eventually intervened.
Mr X explained to the Branch staff that those payments were to his 'fiancée' whom they never met in person. The relationship started on a Dating App and the scammer made up stories such as there is a poor internet that does not allow them to have a face time conversation and that they need financial help. Mr X agreed to help and the scammer advised Mr X to use charity donation as the payment purpose to stop the Branch staff asking any further questions.
Unfortunately, 5 payments Mr X made to the fraudster and resulted in a loss of £5,000.00.
Scammers don't only target people romantically, they'll try to seduce anyone into sending them money. According to the Cyber Security Centre for the Isle of Man £850,000 was lost to online scammers in 2023.
The number of victims grow:
A 55-year-old woman was duped into sending money to her new partner who she met on social media. Her new partner told her they worked in the Cryptocurrency industry and had lots of success from investing. After weeks of messages and calls, the online partner convinced the woman to send £70,000 over multiple transactions to invest. She soon realised she had been scammed after her partner cut all ties with her.
Elsewhere, a 23-year-old man followed an online social media influencer who claimed to be able to double any money you invested in a month. The man engaged with the influencer through private messaging and agreed to send over £5,000. The man discovered the influencers account had been shut down two weeks later. There was no way of contacting them - he wasn’t able to retrieve his funds.
All this can, understandably, be read as quite intimidating but there are steps you can take if you find yourself in a situation where any of these behaviours show up.
- Stop communicating with the person immediately; expect the scammer to feign upset, be heartbroken and attempt to make you feel guilty about 'not helping them in their time of need' or 'emergency.'
- Talk to someone; family, a friend or someone else you do know and trust.
- Speak to your Island bank, the Cyber Security Centre for the Isle of Man or the Isle of Man Constabulary who are working together to bring this safeguarding knowledge and empowerment to our Island community.
The main things to remember are:
- Never send money or gifts to a sweetheart you haven’t met in person.
- Never allow them access to your bank account.
- Never transfer money on their behalf.
- Never take a loan out for them.
- Never provide copies of your personal documents such as passports or driving licenses.
- Never invest your own money on their behalf or on their advice.
- Never purchase and send the codes on gift cards from Amazon or iTunes.
- Never agree to receive or send any parcels on their behalf (such as mobile phones or laptops).
If you or anyone you know has experienced romance fraud or an online scam of any kind, there are people here to support you.
Cyber Security Centre for the Isle of Man
2nd Floor, Former Lower Douglas Police Station, Fort Street, Douglas, Isle of Man, IM1 2SR.
General Enquiries: +44 1624 685557
Public Reporting: +44 1624 686060
The Isle of Man Constabulary
Police Headquarters, Dukes Avenue, Douglas, Isle of Man, IM2 4RG.
Telephone: 01624 631212
Don't fall for romance fraud this Valentines Day.