Romance scams are a form of confidence trick where the scammer shows romantic intentions towards their target, gaining their affection, and using that goodwill to obtain personal information or money under false and fraudulent pretenses.
Romance scams are among the more insidious types of scams out there, playing on the emotions of the person being scammed.
What is a “catfish”?
A “Catfish” is the term given to someone who uses a fake persona to lure someone into a relationship or transaction under false pretenses. Someone who is said to be “Catfishing” is carrying out activities, such as sharing fake photos or information to build a relationship with their target.
How do romance scams work?
Many of these scammers use flattery and ‘love bombing’ – showering a person with compliments and declarations of affection very early on in the conversation to gain trust and build an intense emotional connection with their target as quickly as possible.
Many of those being targeted by romance scammers are less likely to approach friends, family members, police or enforcement agencies when they realise they have been scammed – normally due to a misplaced sense fear or embarrassment.
Most of these types of scammers manipulate through emotional means, some even resorting to the use of blackmail in the form of pictures or videos that they have obtained to extort money or even silence the other party. Others use extreme stories of situations, including war, or medical and other emergencies to increase the urgency or ‘need’ for money to be sent.
Who do scammers target?
The targets of these crimes tend to be those that the scammers view as more vulnerable – the elderly, disabled and those recently divorced or bereaved. The reality is that anyone can be the target of a scam at any time. Very often scammers will utilise information they have found out from other scams to seem more legitimate, or to make their story more appealing to their intended target.
Scammers know how people think and act and can be very knowledgeable about human psychology and the way they can manipulate and control a situation. This is why it’s important to remain vigilant when we receive contact from people online, whether in a romantic situation or more generally.
Lyndsay McFee, project lead at consumeradvice.scot, said:
“With all of us spending longer online it is more important than ever to be aware of the tactics employed by scammers who exploit situations of isolation and loneliness for personal gain.
“Criminals continually look for ways to take advantage of people, using romantic feelings to abuse their trust and trick them into parting with their money or personal information.
“The use of ‘catfishing’ tactics can have an emotional as well as financial impact on people.
“We also know scammers are trying to exploit Scottish consumers, hit by the cost-of-living crisis, with fake cryptocurrency and investment offers.
“Throughout the #avoidthecatfish campaign, we are encouraging people to avoid being scammed by ‘catfish’ and other online fraudsters.
“It’s important to remember there is no shame in being scammed, and consumers who are worried or need help can contact one of our specialist advisers for free, impartial and practical advice.”
How can we avoid romance scammers and catfish?
- Avoid oversharing – Avoid revealing too many personal details too early in conversation and never share bank details – if someone asks for money from you, this should ring warning bells. Many of these scammers depend on their victims supplying enough information for them to be able to help themselves.
- Check profile pictures and verify – if someone is unwilling to have a conversation on the telephone, by facetime, skype or video call, chances are they aren’t who they say they are. Many dating sites ‘verify’ user profiles to provide added peace of mind.
- Check in on relatives – if someone seems withdrawn and secretive, especially in relation to money or their latest love interest, make sure they are OK. Let them know you are there for them if they need you.
- Keep an eye out for giveaway tactics – Be aware of ‘love bombing’ – many scammers shower affection and shower with complements very early and use this as a tool to extort money and gain trust. Be wary of sweeping statements and clichés.
- If it sounds too good to be true it probably is!
It’s important to understand that financial scams are fraud and are a criminal offence. You should reach out to your bank in the first instance to see if they can put a stop to any pending transactions, and report this to the police on the non-emergency number ‘101’.
You can also report scams to consumeradvice.scot by visiting the website, or by calling the team on 0808 800 9060 (Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm), or by using the Quick Reporting Tool at scamwatch.scot.
Advice Direct Scotland are encouraging consumers to steer clear of the catfish to avoid being scammed on and around Valentine’s Day 2023. For more information, visit the designated campaign page.