Romance scams

When fraudsters create dating profiles, it’s not to find love, it’s to steal money.

They can use techniques to build trust to make someone feel like they’re in a real relationship. This is a type of abuse and more common than you think. 

We expose the techniques behind a romance scam. 

How fraudsters influence people

In a romance scam, fraudsters try to gain control and take advantage through the messages they send. They choose their words carefully to set up, influence and isolate people.

Because they’re being manipulated, warning signs that seem obvious to others are difficult for a person in an online relationship to realise. 

Fraudsters create dating profiles?

Are they really charming and genuine, or just pretending? Fraudsters make up details about their home, work and family life to manipulate people into thinking they’re real. This can give a fraudster the opportunity to ask for help and money without causing too much alarm.

Never send money to someone from a dating site or app.

Will they meet in person?

Fraudsters pretend to be someone else and will find any excuse to avoid a video call or meeting in person. Often they won’t even talk on the phone. If they arrange to meet, a problem will always get in the way. They use other people’s photos as their own.

Learn how to check if a photo is of someone else.

Do they want to chat elsewhere?

Fraudsters want to move the chat to another app, like WhatsApp. This is to avoid being reported on a dating site or app, and to get more information on a person to help manipulate them. Stay on a dating site or app until they agree to meet in person. Fraudsters can use the same messages over and over, so search online to check if the same messages have been used before.

Be suspicious if they want access to a bank account or sensitive information, like passport details.

Tell others about a relationship

Fraudsters will try to cut people off from family and friends so they can’t talk to them about a relationship. It’s easier for a fraudster to manipulate someone if they’re alone. People may feel too embarrassed to talk about an online relationship, especially if they’ve shared intimate details. And fraudsters often say people are being disloyal by telling others.

Always tell family or a trusted friend in real-life about an online relationship.

Do they ask for money?

Fraudsters will take time to build a relationship to influence a person so they’ll help them when there’s a problem and send money. Things like illness, having to pay a bill or paying for flights to meet are common problems that fraudsters use.

Never send money, take out a loan, or transfer money on behalf of someone from a dating site or app.

Is their photo really them?

Check if a person is really who they say they are or just someone using a stolen photo.

Find a free reverse image search website and follow their advice.

This kind of site searches the internet to find if an image appears elsewhere with a different name. If it does, they’re probably a fraudster.

Mary’s story

This is a real case of a romance scam. Can you identify any of the tricks the fraudster used?

I joined a Facebook group of a film I loved and a member called Paul sent a private message.

We stayed in the group until Paul suggested WhatsApp, where our chat became more about our lives.

We messaged daily and Paul shared photos of himself, some with his daughter. We even spoke on the phone, but Paul never wanted to video call.

Sadly, Paul’s bank account was blocked and he couldn’t get any money.

He sent photos of bank statements showing £1 million was due to clear and more in savings. I agreed to help and sent gift cards and some money. 

Suddenly, Paul’s daughter fell ill and needed an urgent kidney transplant. I saw photos of her in hospital and the doctor caring for her sent a message. 

Paul was overseas with the army. He asked me to pay the hospital bill, promising to pay me back when his bank was okay to use again. I said yes and had to send money to a lady named Monique, who dealt with the payments for the hospital.

I couldn’t afford to send any more, but Paul suggested I get a loan. This made me nervous, so I told my daughter who made me realise I’d been the victim of a romance scam.

I ended the relationship but lost over £14,500. If I hadn’t told my family, I could have lost a lot more than just my money.

It took me a while to get over Paul, but I’m happy now and with someone I’ve met in person who loves me.

And one last thing: If a relationship feels pressured or secretive, never be afraid to talk to someone about it as it could be a fraudster.

Support for victims of a romance scam

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, as romance scams are more common than you would think.

There are organisations that can offer support.

Please report a romance scam to Action Fraud in England and Wales, and to the police in Scotland on 101.

Always phone 999 in an emergency.

Other scams fraudsters use to trick you

Do you know how to avoid social media scams, an investment scam or what to look out for if a fraudster pretends to be your bank?

Social media scams

Do you know the methods fraudsters use on social media?

Stay safe on social media

Scam calls

Find out how fraudsters can use your details to win your trust.

Avoid scam calls

Investment scams

Fraudsters pretend to be genuine companies and advisers.

How to invest safely

Learn about the latest scams

Fraudsters are always looking for new ways to try to steal your details and money. Discover which scams are common right now.

Go to latest scams

Have you been targeted by fraudsters?

Contact us right away if you think you've been scammed. We can then guide you on what to do next.

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Stay scam safe

Learn how to spot and avoid scams, and how to report fraud.

Protect yourself from fraud

Stay scam safe

Learn how to spot and avoid scams, and how to report fraud.

Protect yourself from fraud