Romance scams are often assumed to predominantly be an issue among older people, with fraudsters tricking those who are lonely and vulnerable into false relationships, so they can steal their money and personal details.
However, a new study by Nationwide suggests that the problem may be far more widespread than many of us assume, with young adults being especially vulnerable.
According to research from the building society, 82 per cent of people in the UK admit to having gone through periods of loneliness and social isolation during their life, and 20 per cent say they go through it every day.
Interestingly, this feeling is very common among 18 to 34-year-olds, with 93 per cent of people in this age group saying they have felt lonely and socially isolated at some point. That’s 11 per cent more than the average.
Nearly one in three people of all ages who feel this way believe it has made them more likely to fall victim to a romance scam, and again, this sentiment was strongest among young adults.
Some 40 per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds said they have felt lonely and isolated, compared with 23 per cent of 45 to 54-year-olds and 17 per cent of over-55s.
Figures also showed that nearly a tenth of people who were defrauded while experiencing loneliness or social isolation fell victim to a romance scam.
Nevertheless, a third of those who felt lonely admitted they’d be more likely to trust someone even if they didn’t know them – a measure perhaps of how vulnerable they are to being exploited by unscrupulous criminals.
So it’s vital that people suffering loneliness and social isolation recognise the red flags that might suggest all is not what it seems.
How to Spot that You’re Being Scammed
- If you’re targeted through a dating site, a romance scammer will try to get you off the site and talk via the phone, text, Skype or another platform instead. So if you can’t verify the person’s identity, you should keep the conversation on the dating site, so the platform has proof of your interactions and them asking you for money.
- Fraudsters may repeatedly give reasons why they can’t meet you in person, or cancel a planned face-to-face meeting at short notice.
- A scammer may bring up a financial problem in an effort to make you feel sorry for them, and try to convince you that you’re the only person who can help them.
- Fraudsters will ask lots of personal questions about you, as the answers to these questions can help them steal your identity or even work out your passwords. So try to avoid sharing personal details, even answers to seemingly innocent questions like the name of your first pet or school.
- Another warning sign that you’re being scammed is that the person you’re speaking to can be reluctant to answer personal questions about themselves, or the answers don’t always add up. For example, they may claim to be from a certain area but not recognise local place names or landmarks, or be poor at spelling despite claiming to be highly educated.
- Fraudsters don’t always want to play a long game, so will try to strike up a close relationship with you fairly quickly. So it could be only a few days or weeks before they tell you they have intense feelings for you, start using a pet name and make romantic overtures.
People of all ages must be vigilant and question people’s motivations if they’re not 100 per cent sure who they are speaking to. Otherwise, the losses – both financial and emotional – can be huge and hard to recover from.