Inside the mind of a romance fraudster

Fraudsters use many tactics to influence their victims so that they believe they’re in a relationship in order to take their money.

Dr Elisabeth Carter, Criminologist and leading expert on the language of romance scams, explains how: 

“Romance fraudsters use language to control and take advantage. They twist the way people make decisions in a similar way to grooming or domestic abuse. This is what makes it difficult for people to realise they’re being manipulated, even if it seems obvious to friends and family.”

Victims of romance scams are not simply sending money to strangers out of the blue. They’re making decisions that feel reasonable to them, which is why they don’t realise they’re being manipulated.

Three ways fraudsters use language to influence people into sending money

The set up

Early on in the relationship, fraudsters will give seemingly harmless details about their home life, work and family. They’ll use this information later to make their request for money seem reasonable, and even expected.

Natural responses

Fraudsters play on people’s instincts to help others in need. They come up with powerful reasons as to why they need help and money. They can use excuses such as illness, the need to pay a bill or even to pay for flights to see you.


Fraudsters will try to cut people off from friends and family because it’s easier to manipulate them when they’re alone. This way people outside of the relationship can’t give their point of view. They’ll make victims feel disloyal for opening up to others about their relationship.

Mary’s story

This is a real-life case of a romance scam that was reported to Lloyds Bank. The names have been changed.

Mary joined a Facebook group for fans of a popular film, chatting with other members and leaving comments on their posts. Not long after she’d joined, Mary received a private message from another member of the group, called Bill. They chatted on Facebook for a while, until Bill asked Mary to move the conversation to WhatsApp, where their conversations became less about the film and more about their personal lives.

Bill and Mary were in contact daily, exchanging dozens of messages and the occasional phone call – although never any video calls. Bill sent Mary photos of himself in different places, some with his daughter.


After some time, the conversation turned to money

Bill told Mary his bank account had been blocked and he had no access to money for a short while. Bill sent Mary photos of bank statements showing £1 million was due to be paid and others showing large amounts of savings.

Mary agreed to help out by buying gift cards and sending small amounts of money. Then, she got a message from Bill saying his daughter had been taken ill with a blood transfusion and needed an urgent kidney transplant.

Bill sent photos showing his daughter lying in a hospital bed and Mary received a message from a person who said they were the doctor responsible for her care. Bill said he too was a doctor, but was currently in Syria, where he’d been deployed as part of his role in the US Army. Bill told Mary his daughter’s hospital bills needed to be paid and asked whether she could help, promising to pay her back as soon as he had the money, which would be soon.

Mary agreed to help and was told to send the money to a lady named Sheila, who worked in the administration department of a Turkish hospital. Bill told Mary this was because the hospital had a UK bank account and would be able to deal with the payments. Mary sent some money to Sheila, but then told Bill she couldn’t afford to send any more.


Mary started to get suspicious

Bill suggested Mary take out a loan. Mary was nervous about this and mentioned it to a family member – and it was at this point the scam became clear. She and Mary talked through what had happened and Mary realised that she had been the victim of a romance scam from the start.

Mary’s loss was £14,500 but by talking to her family about the relationship she saved herself from losing even more money. 

Romance fraudsters can be charming and appear genuine. It’s not your fault if you become a victim of this crime. But there are things you can do to support your safety online. No matter how long you’ve been speaking to someone online or how much you think you trust them, they may not be who you think they are.  

Top Tip - Reverse image search

Be your own detective. Make sure a person isn’t using someone else’s photo as their profile picture by doing a reverse image search. It’s a way of searching the internet with an image instead of words.

To do a reverse image search:

  1. Go to Google Images.
  2. Click the camera option.
  3. Upload the photo of the person.

If the image appears elsewhere on the internet with a different person's name, it means a fraudster has used it to create a fake identity.

Tips to avoid getting scammed


  • Always be careful of revealing personal information about yourself online.
  • Always stay on a dating site or app to message people you connect with.
  • Always be wary if you’re encouraged to keep things from your family and friends.
  • Always let at least one trusted ‘real world' friend or family member know who you're talking to or meeting.
  • Always put messages into online search engines to check if they’ve been used elsewhere with other people.


  • Never send money, take out a loan, or transfer money for someone you’ve met online.
  • Never be afraid to end a relationship if you start to feel rushed, pressured or like you need to keep secrets from your friends and family.
  • Never allow anyone access to your bank account or provide copies of personal information like passports.
  • Never agree to receive or send parcels on someone’s behalf.
  • Never lie for anyone to your bank’s fraud team or try to get around their processes – they’re there to protect you.

Break ups can be distressing 

“Victims’ actions are not a result of stupidity or greed” says Dr Carter. “They’re the result of fraudsters using grooming techniques designed to make actions feel right.”

Being a victim of a romance scam won’t just hurt financially. Realising that a relationship is not real can trigger many challenging emotions. Feelings of hurt, embarrassment and shame are common. There’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. Romance scams are more common than you’d think. There are organisations that can offer support. 


Action Fraud National Fraud & Cyber Crime reporting centre 0300 123 2040

Please report a romance scam to Action Fraud in England and Wales and to the police on 101 in Scotland. Always phone 999 in an emergency.

Victim Support

Victim support provides practical help and emotional support to victims of all crimes whether or not the incident has been reported to the police. Anyone seeking help or information in England and Wales can contact the charity’s free 24/7 Supportline on 0808 168 9111 or get in touch via the Victim support website

What does the word scam mean to you?

Read further advice from Dr Elisabeth Carter on how to recognise the tactics used by the criminals who commit scams and the impact these crimes can have on their victims.

What does the word scam mean to you (PDF 917KB)

Keep up to date with the latest scams

Fraudsters are always coming up with new ways to steal your money. Find out more about the most common latest scams.

Latest scams

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