Skip to Main Content

Met someone online? They may not be who you think they are.

Cyber Safe Warwickshire and Warwickshire Business Watch remind residents to stay safe online as risks of Romance Fraud continue to increase. 


Cyber Safe Warwickshire and Warwickshire Business Watch are running a two-week social media campaign from 1st-14th February 2021 to warn residents of Warwickshire and the business industry about the risks of Romance Fraud and how to protect yourself from falling victim. The rise in romance scams comes as more people have turned to online dating during 2020 due to social distancing restrictions. Look out for our various information and advice posts on the Cyber Safe Warks Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and the Warwickshire Business Watch Twitter

According to UK Finance, there was a 20% increase in bank transfer fraud linked to romance scams in 2020 compared to 2019.

And £68m was lost to such scams in 2020, said the UK's Action Fraud - another increase on the previous year.

What is Romance Fraud?  

When you think you’ve met the perfect partner through an online dating website or app, but the other person is using a fake profile to form a relationship with you. They’re using the site to gain your trust and ask you for money or enough personal information to steal your identity. 

Romance scams involve people being duped into sending money to criminals who go to great lengths to gain their trust and convince them that they are in a genuine relationship. They use language to manipulate, persuade and exploit so that requests for money do not raise alarm bells. These requests might be highly emotive, such as criminals claiming they need money for emergency medical care, or to pay for transport costs to visit the victim if they are overseas.

Spot the signs Protect yourself 
You’ve struck up a relationship with someone online and they declare their love for you quite quickly. They may even talk of marriage or other relationship milestones such as buying a house together. Many romance fraudsters say they are based abroad so will claim a big step in your relationship will be them returning to the UK to be with you. They will claim to be overseas because they work in the military or medical profession, or they’re carrying out important charity work. This helps them paint a picture of themselves as being heroic, trustworthy and reliable, and also gives them an excuse for the use of international dialling codes or poor internet connection. Avoid giving away too many personal details when speaking online to someone you’ve never met in person, as it can lead to your identity being stolen. This includes revealing your full name, date of birth and home address - even if you’re doing it for what seems to be harmless reasons, such as your partner wants to send you flowers or a gift. 
They constantly make up excuses why they can’t video chat or meet in person and they try and move your conversation off the platform that you met on. Stay on the site’s messaging service until you meet in person. Criminals want to quickly switch to other platforms that are less regulated and have better encryption, so there’s no evidence of them asking you for money. Whatever reason you’re given to move away from the site where you met, if the other person is genuine, they will accept your decision to stay on the platform until you see each other in person. 
When they ask for your financial help, it will be for a time critical emergency. The reason will be something emotive, which pulls at your heartstrings. They’ll open up to you about a problem, or something that is worrying them to appear vulnerable and make you feel sorry for them.  They may get defensive if you decline to help or make you feel guilty and responsible for the urgent emergency they claim you could have averted. Most online platforms have a reporting tool which you can use if you suspect someone online is using pictures that don’t belong to them, you are suspicious of their behaviour, or they have asked you for money. Reporting their user profile means it can be blocked, which helps protect others. 
They tell you to keep your relationship private and insist that you don’t discuss anything you talk about with your friends and family. This also includes the crisis they find themselves in that requires money. They will convince you this is part of the normal privacy that forms a healthy relationship. 

- No matter how long you’ve been speaking to someone online and how much you trust them, if you haven’t met them in person do not: 

- send them any money 

- allow them access to your bank account 

- transfer money on their behalf 

take a loan out for them 

provide copies of your personal documents such as passports or driving licenses 

invest your own money on their behalf or on their advice 

purchase and send the codes on gift cards from Amazon or iTunes 

Agree to receive and/or send parcels on their behalf (laptops, mobile phones etc.) 


How it happens

The majority of accounts on dating websites are genuine people looking for romance, but fraudsters may try to contact you by making fake profiles, getting in touch and building what feels like a loving relationship.

Once a fraudster using a fake dating profile is confident that they’ve won your trust, they will tell you about a problem they’re experiencing and ask you to help out by sending money.

They may have arranged to visit you but need money to pay for the flight or visa. They may tell you everything has been booked but their ticket has been stolen, and you need to send money quickly to get them on the next flight.

Alternatively, they may prey on your sympathies, telling you a family member or someone else they are responsible for is ill and they need money for medical treatment.

Fraudsters may also use the conversations you have to find out enough personal information about you to commit identity fraud. They’ll ask innocent-looking questions about you that make it look like they just want to get to know you, such as your date of birth, home address or family background.

Signs your friend or family member may be involved in a romance scam:

  • They may be very secretive about their relationship or provide excuses for why their online partner has not video called or met them in person. They might become hostile or angry, and withdraw from conversation when you ask any questions about their partner
  • They may express very strong emotions and commitment to someone they have only just met
  • They have sent, or are planning to send, money to someone they have not met face-to-face. They may take out loans or withdraw from their pension to send money.

How users can stay safe from romance scams:

  • Be suspicious of any requests for money or personal information from someone you have never met in person, particularly if you have only recently met online.
  • Speak to your family or friends to get advice.
  • Profile photos may not be genuine, do your research first. Performing a reverse image search on a search engine can find photos that have been taken from somewhere, or someone, else.

Reverse Image search

Romance scammers often steal photos published online and use these identities to approach people. Photos of models and uniformed soldiers are popular, however photos can be taken from anyone who publishes them publicly online – for example, from Facebook profiles. If you’re suspicious about a new contact there is an easy way to see where their photo is being used on the web, by performing a reverse image search using Google Images.

How to reverse image search:

  1. Download a copy of the photo of the person on to your device
  2. Go to Google Image search, select the camera icon 📷  and upload the photo
  3. Google will return a list of results showing where the picture is being used on the internet

You may want to reverse image search using more than one image of the person. Remember this is not a fail-safe way to detect romance scams, but it is a useful tool as many scammers will take these photos offline. They’ll also often use the same image in more than one scam they are running.

How to report it 

It can be embarrassing to feel tricked into thinking you’ve formed a relationship online, but if you tell Action Fraud they can take a report in confidence. Report it to Action Fraud online or call 0300 123 2040. 

How to protect your business

It is recommended for businesses in this industry to work closely with their local authorities and share best practice. As a business owner in this industry, make sure you are GDPR compliant and have necessary policies in place to support and protect your customers. 

Whether your business has online presence or not, it is recommended to advise customers on best practice and awareness raising, in order to avoid giving out too much of their personal information. Conversations should remain on the site’s messaging service until you meet in person. Fraudsters often try to switch to other platforms that offer less protection. 

Met Someone Online? They May Not Be Who You Think They Are...

Cyber Safe Warwickshire want you to be able to spot the signs of romance fraud and prevent you from falling victim. Follow these steps on our informational video to protect yourself and share with others!