Many people experienced feelings of loneliness and isolation during the COVID-19 lockdown, leading them to venture online in search of romance. But as has happened all too frequently with other aspects of the coronavirus emergency, fraudsters have sought to exploit the situation for their own gain.
Romance scams are not new, but sadly the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) has uncovered evidence of scams targeting those isolated due to COVID-19 coronavirus regulations.
A furloughed woman targeted by a man claiming to be an American soldier lost £1,600. The fraudster frequently communicated with the woman, building up a connection until she fell for him. At first, he requested £100, which he paid back, building up trust. He then suggested they meet up and asked the woman for two payments of £750 for return flights from the US to the UK. The woman paid the money, never heard from the man again.
Men have also been targets. A one victim paid for a taxi from London to Glasgow and an overnight stay for a woman he thought was a widow, but as soon as the money was transferred, the woman disappeared.
CTSI Lead Officer, Katherine Hart, said: “It is heartbreaking to hear about these stories, and it makes my blood boil to see vulnerable people hurt.
“Many are isolated at this time, and scammers are using this as an opportunity to profit. I ask that members of the public remain alert and wary of those who communicate with them.
“Payment requests should always be an immediate red flag. Also, if you suspect a family member or friend may succumb to this scam, please reach out and talk to them before they make a costly mistake.”
Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve been scammed and report it to Action Fraud, or if in Scotland dial 101 and report it to Police Scotland. Advice and guidance on how to protect yourself, or your business, from fraud and cybercrime, is available at www.gov.uk/coronavirus-fraud-and-cyber-crime.
The public and businesses are encouraged to join Friends Against Scams and Businesses Against Scams, respectively. These initiatives aim to protect and prevent people and businesses from becoming scam victims by empowering them to take a stand against scams.