The amount of recorded UK victims of online dating fraud has risen by 40 percent during the Covid pandemic, according to research by Britain’s fraud and cybercrime reporting centre.
With more people using dating apps and websites during periods of in-person social contact restrictions, Action Fraud found that reports of people losing money to online dating fraud had soared.
The organization received 7,754 reports of romance fraud between April 2020 and April 2021 — a 40 percent rise year on year. A total of £73.9 million (around $104 million) was reportedly lost by the victims during this period.
The real amount of UK romance fraud victims is likely to be far higher, with many believed to never report their situations due to fear of embarrassment.
According to Which?, the consumer choice brand that analysed the findings, Action Fraud defines dating fraud as a situation where “the intended victim is befriended on the internet and eventually convinced to assist their new love financially by sending them money, for a variety of financial reasons.”
Common online dating scams include fraudsters asking connections to send them money so they can travel from abroad to visit them. Another tactic is catfishing: convincing a connection to send a compromising photo or video of themselves, often nude, then extorting them by threatening to release the content online unless the victim sends them money.
According to UK law, fraud is committed as soon as a fraudster asks for money under false pretences – not when money is transferred.
Recent research by other organisations has further underlined the trend. Banking and finance industry body UK Finance found a 20 percent increase in bank transfer fraud related to romance scams from 2019 to 2020.
“The national lockdowns, and other restrictions on our social lives, implemented because of the coronavirus outbreak, have meant more people have been seeking companionship online and this has undoubtedly affected the number of reports we have seen,” Pauline Smith, head of Action Fraud, told BBC News in February this year.
British comedian Joel Dommett has talked about how he became the target of a catfishing scam in the mid-2010s. After being tricked into taking part in what he was told was an online sex session with a woman he’d befriended via Twitter, footage of him nude was released online.
Rather than give in to the scam, Dommett incorporated the experience into comedy routines and wrote about it in a successful book.
Need help with this? See Actionfraud.police.uk for information about what to do if you believe you may have been the victim of an online dating scam, and for advice about how to avoid them.