To trust or not to trust? Romance scams, investment scams, and other online confidence tricks
4 min | 20 September 2021
Swindlers, tricksters, and scammers have been abusing people's trust for centuries. But modern technology and Covid-19 lockdowns have created new opportunities.
In the second of our four-part series, we show you how to identify – and help protect yourself from – common online scams.
Internet scams have been around since, well, the dawn of the internet. But the Covid-19 pandemic has created the perfect storm.
With many of us feeling more vulnerable and isolated – key characteristics of the ideal victim – criminals have seized the opportunity. And regrettably, internet scams are on the rise.
It's never been more important to be cautious when dealing with people online. But how do you stay safe without doubting every interaction?
Sadly, one of the main ways scammers have been exploiting loneliness is romance fraud. The scammer connects through a dating app and fakes a romantic interest. Once they've earned your trust, they'll ask for you to pay for something.
It sounds like a movie plot, except for the real-life consequences. Romance fraud victims collectively lost £68 million in 2020. But what's worse is the heartbreak – being cheated by someone you trusted.
Luckily, most of these scams follow a pattern. Here's how to spot them:
- Their profile picture looks too perfect. Most scammers use stock images, so it's worth running a reverse image search. If the same picture is used on other profiles with different names, steer clear
- A phrase that appears in their profile repeatedly. Try searching online for "[phrase] + dating scam" to see what comes up
- They ask lots of questions, but don't reveal much about themselves
- Things happen too fast. For example, they say they've fallen in love with you even though you've only chatted a few times
- Inconsistencies in their stories
- They ask for money
From riches to rags
Investment scams promise sky-high returns you can't pass up.
The investment looks legitimate – usually high-value assets like stocks, property, or cryptocurrency.
Except there's no investment. The scammer pockets the money and disappears.
So how do you sniff out a potential scam?
First off, be suspicious of search engine adverts and unsolicited emails, texts, cold calls, and post. Check if the company is on the Financial Conduct Authority's register (Opens in new window). Certain investment activity is regulated, so the FCA register can provide some reassurance on the legitimacy of the company.
The FCA also has a warning list (Opens in new window) where you can check for known scams.
If the investment is supposedly offered from a well-known financial institution, undertake a website search to find the genuine website for the firm, and then call the number shown to verify the legitimacy of the offer.
Don't be rushed into a decision. If you're put under pressure to act immediately, something probably isn't right.
Good deals gone bad
Ever heard of the guy who paid £450 for an Xbox only to be sent a photo? Or the student who paid £1,200 for a Macbook and two iPhones and received two bottles of lemonade?
Both thought they were bagging a bargain. But they were victims of a purchase scam – a scam in which you pay in advance for goods you never receive.
Purchase scams usually target auction sites, but they're becoming commonplace on social media and on community sites, too.
- The offer is too good to be true. A popular technique involves promising a piece of sought after tech – the latest iPhone, for instance – at a heavily discounted price
- You're directed to an unfamiliar website. Use a whois lookup tool (Opens in new window) to check how old the website is. If it's been registered only recently, it could well be a fake
- You're asked to pay by bank transfer instead of a secure option recommended by the website
- The seller won't answer questions or let you inspect the goods unless you pay first
Have a family member or friend you think would benefit from reading this? Pass it on.
We also recommend reading these
- Too good to be true: How to recognise and avoid online scams
- Is that really you? Staying safe from impersonation scams
- Get smart about card fraud
- Actionfraud.police.co.uk Article dated 10 February 2021 "Romance scams on the up during lockdown"
- Notthinghampost.com Article dated 6 December 2013 "Nottingham teenager furious after paying £450 for a photo of an XBox One on eBay"
- Birminghammail.co.uk Article dated 1 March 2020 "Fraudsters dupe student into buying two bottles of lemonade for £1,200"