Online Romance Scams Spike Under Lockdown
Police and banks are celebrating after revealing that £19 million in fraud was stopped in the first half of the year, although romance scams are reportedly on the rise.
Over 600 reports of romance scams each month were made in June, July and August, contributing to a 26% year-on-year increase in cases recorded by Action Fraud, according to Sky News.
These are typically confidence tricks where a vulnerable individual is contacted via a dating site and financially exploited or unwittingly used as a money mule.
Over 19,400 such crimes were logged with the FBI last year, making it the second highest earner for cyber-criminals after business email compromise (BEC). Over $475 million was lost to romance scammers in 2019, the law enforcement agency said.
In the UK, losses are said to have exceeded £66 million between August 2019 and August 2020. As a result, various dating sites, banking groups and police are running a “Take Five” awareness campaign designed to warn users of the dangers posed by internet scammers.
The spike in romance scams coincided with COVID-19 lockdowns in the UK and much of the rest of the world, and a subsequent shift in crime and fraud online.
Action Fraud claimed it saw an increase in reported attacks in the first month of lockdown, to nearly 4000. UK Finance last month claimed that fraudsters are increasingly shifting their operations online.
However, Action Fraud also revealed this week that millions of pounds worth of fraud has been prevented so far this year thanks to a Banking Protocol first introduced three years ago.
The initiative enables banking staff in branches to alert their local police force when they suspect a customer is being scammed, for example if they are transferring or withdrawing large sums of money. It has been used to good effect to stop romance fraud, and impersonation scams, Action Fraud claimed.
In addition to the £19.3 million in fraud allegedly prevented, 100 arrests were made in the first half of the year.