LAST UPDATE: 16/11/2023

Many people seek love and companionship online. But it’s not without risk. Romance scams are but one of many common types of cyber frauds. The scammers gain the trust of their victims, even making them believe they are in a romantic relationship and persuade them to elicit money transfers or bank account details. After the deception, they disappear leaving their prey in a difficult financial situation.

A romance scam is a cyber crime committed on social networks and dating apps. Scammers create fake profiles to contact victims and gain their trust, using the anonymity the Internet affords them, smooth talking and false promises to make people feel a romantic connection with them. Time goes by, and they ask their victim for money, saying it’s an emergency or alleging money issues or health problems. But once they get hold of the money, they're gone, without a trace, to prey on someone else. 

In the UK, about a third of Britons (31%) have been caught in a romance scam, according to research by Santander UK. Also, according to UK Finance, romance scams increased nationwide in 2022, costing victims 31.3 million pounds (up from 17.8 million in 2020). In response, Santander UK is running a new campaign called “Love Hurts” to spread awareness about romance scamming.

Romance scamming is nothing new; but it’s got more sophisticated with widespread access to the Internet. Before, scammers used to lurk in online forums, chat rooms and by email to dupe others into giving them money. Now, they've become more sophisticated and even formed large organizations, armed with social media profiles, adulterated photographs and identity theft. Scams mainly rely on social engineering. 

How to spot and avoid a romance scam

Spotting the warning signs is key to avoid falling victim to a romance scam and to protect your finances. Here are some of the things to look out for: 

  • Is this a real person? Be suspicious if they say they can’t meet in person. Your online love interest will likely claim to live abroad, travel a lot, be in the armed forces or work for an international organization.
  • Incomplete profile. Scammers’ use fake personal data to create accounts, and their profile info is usually incomplete. If you search their name online, you’ll likely be left empty handed. 
  • Sketchy information. Scammers can slip up by contradicting themselves or telling you outlandish things. Messages are often poorly written or confusing.
  • Spectacular photos. Do the photos they send you look real? They might have been stolen from another profile or created using artificial intelligence. Be wary of photos from someone you don’t know, especially if they look too touched up or like they were taken by a professional.
  • They ask for money or account details. Scammers will likely ask you to send them money, personal details or bank account passwords. You should never give a stranger personal information or send money.

What to do if you spot a romance scam

Here are some tips you should follow if you think you’ve been the target of a romance scam.

  • Don’t send money. First and foremost, never send money to someone you haven’t met in person. 
  • Gather evidence. If you think something isn’t right, stop the conversation. Save chats and photos, and keep notes of what the scammer tells you. Even minor details can help the authorities bring down the scammer and prevent them from targeting more victims.
  • Notify the website and your bank. Most websites and apps have a reporting channel. Reporting scams is crucial. If you’ve already transferred money, contact your bank straight away.

  • Alert the authorities. The authorities need to be aware of these scams. Many people feel too embarrassed to report them; however, it’s vital they do for the right course of action to be taken in support of the victim.

Santander against fraud

Santander’s cybersecurity team prioritizes protecting our customers from fraud. We constantly invest in fraud protection technology and run initiatives to help customers and broader society stay safe online. We've launched ‘Cyber Heroes’, an interactive training tool available in Argentina, Brazil, Portugal, Spain and the UK, to boost customers’ and the general public’s knowledge of online safety.

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