Scots are being warned to be on the lookout for signs of romance and companionship fraud in the run-up to Valentine’s Day.
Advice Direct Scotland, which runs the national consumer advice service consumeradvice.scot, has launched a new campaign in order to gain insight into tactics used by scammers to exploit situations of loneliness or isolation of their targets.
The Romance and Companionship Scams campaign (ROMCOM) will look at bank transfer fraud, ‘love bombing’, blackmail, and other manipulation techniques that people closer to the scams may misunderstand or misinterpret as displays of affection. It will also focus on non-romantic scams perpetrated by family members and fraudsters posing as them through apps like WhatsApp.
Advice Direct Scotland said romance and companionship scams, rely on psychological “buy-in” and play on the emotions of the person being tricked.
The charity warned people to avoid revealing too many personal details early into an online conversation and stressed that they should never give out their bank details.
It also issued advice on identifying potential scams, including simple ways to verifying a person’s profile picture via video chat, and being aware of ‘love bombing’ techniques where clichés and over-the-top flattery are used to gain another person’s trust to extort money .
Other scammers will seek to manipulate people through emotional means, and some may resort to the use of blackmail through pictures or videos they have obtained to extort money.
Advice Direct Scotland said many of those being conned are less likely to approach friends, family members, police or enforcement agencies when they realize they have been scammed, normally due to a misplaced sense of fear or embarrassment.
The targets of these crimes tend to be those that the scammers view more vulnerable, for example, the elderly, disabled and those recently divorced or bereaved.
Scottish Government Public Finance Minister Tom Arthur said anyone who becomes aware of suspicious activity should report it to police to help stop the perpetrator and potentially protect others.
Advice Direct Scotland’s top tips to help identify romance scammers
less is more
Avoid revealing too many personal details too early into the conversation and never share your bank details. If someone asks for money from you, this should ring warning bells. Many of these scammers depend on their target supplying enough information for them to be able to help themselves.
Check profile pictures and verify.
If someone is unwilling to have a conversation on the telephone, by FaceTime, Skype or video call, chances are they aren’t who they say they are. Many dating sites ‘verify’ user profiles to provide added peace of mind.
Check in on relatives
If someone seems withdrawn and secretive, especially in relation to money and their latest love interest, make sure they are OK. Let them know you are there for them if they need you.
Be aware of ‘love bombing’
Many scammers shower affection very early and use this as a tool to extort money and gain trust. Be wary of sweeping statements and clichés.
Sometimes the old ones are the most helpful, but if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
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Colin Mathieson, spokesperson for Advice Direct Scotland, said: “The Advice Direct Scotland Romance and Companionship Scams campaign will look at the tactics employed by scammers who exploit situations of isolation and loneliness of their targets for personal gain.
“This is not only from a romantic perspective, but will also look at other methods employed, including scams perpetrated by family members, and fraudsters posing as them, for example through WhatsApp scams.
He continued: “If you believe you have been the target of a romance scam, you should contact your bank in the first instance if financial details have been shared, or money has been transferred – you should also contact the police to report the situation. ”
For more advice on scams or if you need to report a scam you have identified, you can contact consumeradvice.scot on 0808 164 6000.
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