Imagine meeting the love of your life online. Imagine telling that person all about you and imagining a happy future together. Imagine trusting that person enough to share very personal information, including financial details and even giving that person large sums of money they told you they desperately need. Now imagine finding out that it was all a lie, that the person you have fallen in love with doesn’t exist, that your trust has been broken and your money is gone…
No, this isn’t the storyline to this week’s episode of your favourite soap but is, in fact, the harsh reality for someone who has been the target of a ‘romance scam’; and it happens more often than you would think.
Romance scams are amongst the more insidious types of scams out there, playing on the emotions of the person being scammed.
Many of these scammers use flattery and ‘love bombing’ – i.e. showering a person with compliments and declarations of affection very early on in the conversation to gain trust and instil an intense emotional connection as early in the interaction as possible.
Many of those being conned by romance scams 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.
The targets of these crimes tend to be those that the scammers view as the more vulnerable – the elderly, disabled and those recently divorced or bereaved.
A study published in the British Journal of Social Work in 2018 outlined the importance of understanding the risks of financial scams as a part of elder abuse prevention. These scams are a form of abuse and if allowed to go unchecked, can spiral out of control quickly.
Being forewarned is forearmed and by sharing information and common techniques that the scammers use, we can all take responsibility in limiting those impacted negatively by romance scams by identifying patterns of behaviour and stopping the scammers in their tracks.
It is important to understand the ways in which the confidence of those impacted by these types of scam is gathered.
Studies indicate that the process of gaining trust normally involves a similar process found in victims of other forms of abuse; that of building emotional attachment and bonds of secrecy, very often isolating the target from friends and family and those closest to them who could potentially identify that something isn’t quite right.
What needs to be understood is the fact that this could happen to anyone. The fraudsters know how people work, can be very knowledgeable about human psychology and the manner in which they can manipulate and control a situation.
A study published in 2013 in The British Journal of Criminology found links between marketing and romance scams in as far as the methods of persuasion used to entice those targeted to part with their hard-earned cash. This indicated that the persuasion techniques used were similar in approach, with marketing scammers using a perceived position of authority to entice targets to part with their money.
The study found romance scammers using similar trust-building methods to carry out these acts.
At consumeradvice.scot, we believe that it is important to understand the various types of scams out there, and ‘romance scams’, relying on emotional and psychological buy-in, are probably one of the more concerning types of scam currently operating. Here are our top tips to identifying the scammers and give them a wide berth –
- Avoid revealing too many personal details too early into the 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 target 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 and their latest love interest, make sure they are OK. Let them know you are there for them if they need you.
- Be aware of ‘love bombing’ – many scammers shower affection very early and use this as a tool to extort money and gain trust. Be wary of sweeping statements and clichés.
- Remember – If it sounds too good to be true it probably is!
If you would like more advice on scams or would like to report a scam you have identified, you can contact consumeradvice.scot on 0808 164 6000. We are open 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday. You can follow us on social media – Twitter: @advicedotscot and Facebook at www.facebook.com/advice.scot, Instagram: @advice.scot, or get ahead by visiting our knowledge centre at www.consumeradvice.scot.