Mobile phone surrounded by warning symbols

How to spot a romance scam

by Leeds Building Society

Times have been tricky lately, but with a turbulent couple of years behind us it might be easy to slip into old habits and become complacent when it comes to protecting ourselves online.

However, scammers are still out there, and it’s important that if you’re looking for love online you’re extra vigilant about who you are speaking to and what their intentions might be.

What's a romance scam?

Also called a dating scam, or catfishing, these fraudsters set up fake profiles on dating websites or social media to form manipulative relationships with people. They employ tactics to trigger emotional responses, often playing a long game to build trust with their victim.

Ultimately, they’re trying to defraud the person out of significant sums of money. They might do this subtly, by slowly asking questions to gather personal and financial information. Or they may use excuses to ask for money directly. For example:

  • Saying they’re in a country badly affected by coronavirus and they need financial help.
  • Claiming to be stuck abroad due to travel restrictions, so they can’t access their money and need you to send some.
  • Telling you their family member is poorly and they need help to pay for medical treatment.

What should I look out for?

There are a few warning signs you should look out for when it comes to romance scammers:

They fall for you quickly

  • They’ll probably escalate quite quickly from an introduction to saying they have strong feelings for you.
  • You’ll be showered with kind words and maybe even gifts, as declarations of their love.
  • They may ask you a lot of personal questions.

Their story is inconsistent or too good to be true

  • They may take on the identity of a person in a position of authority, or who you’d typically trust, such as military personnel or professionals who are working abroad.
  • There may be inconsistencies between what their profile says, what they tell you, and how they act. Like saying they’re well educated, but they consistently spell things wrong.
  • If you meet on a dating site or app, they’ll try to move you to a more private channel to keep the conversation going, such as email, phone or direct message. This is because they won’t want the dating site provider to have any evidence of them asking you for money.
  • They may find excuses for why they can’t video call you or meet up in person.

They ask for money

  • They may start feeding you stories of personal hardship, or suggest they want to visit – but that they need financial help with these things.
  • They might ask you to transfer money or goods to other people or accounts on their behalf.
  • If you’re hesitant about sending money or supporting them, they’ll become more persistent.
  • If you end up sending money, they’ll start asking for more and more.

How can I protect myself?

Remember the warning signs above. If you recognise any of those, think very carefully about how you interact with the person contacting you. Here are some things to think about:

  • Don’t involve money. Never send money to someone you haven’t met in person, even if you feel you’ve got to know them online. And don’t accept money from them and transfer it to someone else’s account – this could be money laundering.
  • Do your research. Use a search engine to do a reverse image search of their profile picture, to check if it’s used anywhere else. Read their profile very carefully and then think about what they’ve told you – does it all add up?
  • Protect yourself. Only use trusted dating websites to chat, rather than moving to email or instant messenger. Never share your personal information. And avoid sending photos or any compromising material that could be used for blackmail.

What should I do if I've been a victim of a romance scam?

If you’ve been a victim of a scam, we understand that it can be hard to talk about. And when it comes to romance scams, you might also feel betrayed by someone you thought you could trust.

However, it’s really important to tell your bank or building society. If that’s us, please get in touch. We won’t judge you, and we’ll do all we can to help.

You can also report scams to Action Fraud through their online tool. Or you can call them on 0300 123 2040 (Monday to Friday, 8am – 8pm).


This article is intended for information purposes only and is accurate at the time of publication. It’s always advisable to verify any information you take before relying on it.