What does a romance scam look like?

8 February 2024

3 min read

What does a romance scam look like?

Anyone could be the victim of a romance scam. The criminals who run these scams are experts at researching victims.

They understand human nature, and how to manipulate people to gain affection, confidence and trust. And they create detailed backgrounds for the characters they create – they build convincing profiles on dating apps and websites, social media and chatrooms.

Below is Amanda’s experience as a victim of a romance scam (this is an example scenario, using details taken from real victims’ experiences).

Amanda’s story

The setup

Amanda was a teacher who had been through a divorce recently, and was taking a career break. She posted a few times on social media about her relationship breakdown.

One day, she received a friend request from a man named Jeffrey, who said he was looking for friendship. He was very attentive, messaged her several times every day, and showered her with compliments. They quickly developed a strong relationship.

The bond

Over the next few months, Amanda and Jeffrey became extremely close. He shared photos of his family, and talked about lots of shared interests. He said he worked abroad in the military. He insisted that they needed to communicate through email and messages, as he explained that video calls were impossible for him, due to poor internet connection at his army camp.

Eventually, Amanda and Jeffrey made plans together for him to fly to the UK so they could meet. But he began talking about financial difficulties that would make it difficult for him to pay for the flight. She was devastated that their plans would fall through, so she agreed to help by sending money to him.

The let-down

Amanda had heard of romance scams, but she was convinced that Jeffrey was a good person, and she was happy to have found someone who liked her. She was so invested in the relationship she had built with him that she couldn’t see the warning signs.

Two days before he was due to arrive, he explained he wouldn’t be able to come as his commanding officer had changed his release date at the last minute. He told her he’d arrange another flight, and she continued to send him money.

The realisation

Later, Amanda asked Jeffrey if he had booked the flights, but he stopped replying to her messages. She never heard from him again.

A few weeks later, Amanda updated her sister on what had happened, and she realised she may have been the victim of a scam. She reported it to the police and they confirmed that the social media account was fake, and the person she believed she knew had been a scammer.

How can I protect myself from romance scams?

Remember, anyone can be the victim of a scam. UK Finance reports that victims lost a total value of £31.3 million to romance scams in 2022.

Criminals know how to get you to take your guard down, and stop you thinking rationally. There are a few warning signs in Amanda’s story, including:

  • She posted personal details online, which helped the scammer identify her as a potential victim
  • He gave Amanda a lot of frequent and intense attention – this is known as ‘love bombing’ and is a common romance scam tactic
  • He always had excuses for why he couldn’t talk on video call or meet face-to-face
  • He gradually made claims that he had financial difficulties, then asked directly for money.

To help protect yourself online, or look out for family and friends, you can find out more about romance scams, and what signs to look out for.

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