Think Tinder Swindler Is Far-Fetched? 'Romance Fraud' Is Very Real

Romance fraud has nearly doubled during the pandemic. Here's how to spot a potential love scammer.
|
The Tinder Swindler has shone a spotlight on the growing issue of romance fraud.
Netflix
The Tinder Swindler has shone a spotlight on the growing issue of romance fraud.

Tinder Swindler is currently riding high in our most-watched lists on Netflix and just as hot a topic online. People are rightly shocked at how bachelor ‘Simon Leviev’ managed to con so many women he dated out of their money.

Many are also quick to say that it could never happen to them. The women on the show – including Cecilie Fjellhøy and Pernilla Sjöholm who took out loans of almost half a million dollars between them – have been called everything from “naive” to “gold diggers” on social media. There are also memes aplenty asking how they didn’t notice the “red flags”.

To some, the idea of loaning a partner you’ve only just met large sums of money seems outrageous and far-fetched, but the situation is more common than you might think and it even has a name: romance fraud.

Romance fraud is a very real problem, according to new research from TSB bank. Cases have almost doubled during the pandemic, the bank’s study has found, with more than 14,005 payments made across 1,624 individual cases, which equates to an average transaction rate of 8.6 transactions per case.

Why are daters particularly vulnerable to romance fraud right now? “The past two years left people craving human connection, especially if they’d been living alone and feeling lonely while the rest of the world seemed coupled-up,” says relationship coach and psychologist, Sam Owen. “Sadly, it was the perfect storm that would inevitably result in a significant increase in digital fraud cases.”

Romance fraud affects both men and women, but women are more likely to fall for a scam, TSB found – customers who were women made up two thirds (66%) of the bank’s fraud cases, compared to a third (33%) for men.

Where does romance fraud start?

Romance fraud can start anywhere but where a source of origin was recorded by TSB, these were the most common platforms where a scammer first targeted their victim:

  • Facebook where fake profiles led to over a third (35%) of all fraud cases.

  • This was followed by almost a quarter (24%) on Tinder, a fifth (21%) on Plenty of Fish and almost one in 10 (9%) from Match.com.

  • Olderdating.com, Bumble and Instagram accounted for 3% of cases.

Paul Davis, director of fraud prevention at TSB, says: “Dating sites and social media can be a great way of meeting people and staying connected during the pandemic – but they’re also riddled with scammers, hoping to break your heart and your bank balance with cruel and complex tricks.”

How do romance fraudsters gain your trust?

Fraud often begins with feelings, says Owen. “Fraudsters concoct stories to elicit feelings of sympathy, pride, and trust; emotions that will lead the victim to feel this person they’ve never met is being faithful, honourable, a hero even, and in need of help,” she says.

Victims of such fraud are often compassionate and altruistic, she says, “likely to give to charity and willing to help people, but in this case, they are helping the wrong people by accident.” Meanwhile, fraudsters often pose in fake jobs – such as naval officer, overseas doctor, soldier or oil rig worker – to appear to work in a respected and recognised role – and to account for their absence.

“Their approach is often underpinned by an emotive story, and longing to get back home, with funds from their victim helping them edge closer to being together,” Owen adds.

How do you spot a romance fraudster?

Dating sites can be a great way to meet people – but remain suspicious and don’t give personal information away to someone you’ve never met in person. If the conversation turns to money early on, it’s a warning sign. Fraudsters concoct elaborate stories to lure people in; so be suspicious of people accounting for their absence or painting a complex picture of their worklife.

“When interacting online, it’s important to remain on guard,” says Davis. “Don’t put your trust in people you’ve never met in person – and if the conversation ever moves on to money, then it’s time to stop.”

It’s natural to want to know if someone’s story adds up. New research by cyber safety experts Norton found that three in five UK adults (61%) admit to looking up a prospective partner online (via social media, search engines, and professional networking sites), and almost half say they have un-matched after learning new information about them.

But a scammer can also look you up. As Steve Wilson, UK and Ireland director at Norton says: “The research highlights just how much a stranger can find out about you by simply matching with [you] on a dating app or site.

Even as dating apps get smarter, it’s important to stay alert. “These services are constantly evolving with new features and ways to interact, but it’s clear that the information you choose to share on your dating profile can compromise your privacy,” Wilson warns. “For many people, your entire online presence is fair game, and it’s important to protect your personal information because those you match with are often finding out more about you than you realise.”

What’s the balance between safety and stalking?

“It’s only natural to want to learn more about the person you’re speaking to online,” says Jo Hemmings, behavioural psychologist and dating coach.

“What’s important is that online daters are able to find the balance between feeding their curiosity – and perhaps giving themselves the peace of mind that their match is who they say they are – and veering into stalking behaviours, which could impact chance of romance. Because so many people have an online presence, it’s easier than ever to delve into someone’s online past.

“To avoid being influenced or disappointed by what they find, online daters should be wary of taking their searches too far, while bearing in mind how much they too are sharing publicly online.”

Before You Go