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Romance scam survey

About one in seven (14pc) people say they have been the victim of a romance scam, according to a survey for an insurance company. Just over a third (34pc) of victims have been targeted since March, that is, during the coronavirus pandemic.

Peter Hazlewood, group financial crime risk director at Aviva, said: “Romance scammers are exploiting the pandemic and lockdown conditions by preying on people who are spending more time at home, often in isolation, and on the internet. Typically, these fraudsters pretend to be someone completely different from who they are in real life. They usually begin by building trust with their victim, feigning friendship or romance. They then begin to drop subtle hints about needing money for a difficult situation.”

A romance scam is defined as sending money to someone the victim has met on-line and formed a relationship with but has never met in person. The research found that people aged 25 to 34 are the age group most likely (27pc) to admit to having been the victim of a romance scam. The insurer adds that anecdotal evidence suggests older people are also being targeted online. Slightly more men (15pc) than women (12pc) admit to the being the victim of a romance scam.

Peter Hazlewood said: “Recently, we’ve spoken to older customers who appear to have been targeted through online gaming forums, where they form friendships with people with whom they regularly play games like chess and backgammon. These victims are looking to drawdown on their retirement savings to, seemingly, give it to fraudsters. In a situation like this, where we have suspicions without evidence of fraud, we work hard to do whatever is in our power to protect our customers and their savings.”

Almost two-thirds of victims (62pc) in the survey were embarrassed to admit it to their friends and family or the authorities. The average amount of money handed over to fraudsters since March last year was said to be around £300.

Peter Hazlewood said: “These scams usually start with one relatively small amount being handed over, but often escalate into a number of payments which can really add-up. People should not be embarrassed to admit falling for a romance scam. These fraudsters are incredibly convincing and will do anything to persuade their victim to part with their cash and, what is sometimes, their life savings.”

How to spot a romance scam:

• You have only met the person online, and never in person.
• They need money to pay for medical treatment – either for themselves or a sick or injured relative.
• They ask lots of personal questions about you, but don’t tell you much about themself.
• They live in a different country to you.
• They quickly switch from communicating with you through an online forum to text message or email.
• They ask you to pay for the travel costs, such as plane tickets or visa charges, so they can meet you.

Advice on romance scams on Aviva’s website: https://www.aviva.co.uk/help-and-support/protect-yourself-from-fraud/spot-a-romance-scam/.

About the research

It was by Censuswide with a sample of 3,001 nationally representative UK general consumers, in December 2020.


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