What is it?

You’re convinced to make a payment to a person you’ve met either through social media platforms, dating websites and apps or gaming sites. Fake profiles are used by criminals in an attempt to build a relationship with you – this is also often known as catfishing. Criminals use information found on social media to create fake identities to target you with a scam, looking for profiles that say you’re ‘widowed’ or ‘divorced’.

They often go to great lengths to gain your trust and convince you that you’re in a genuine relationship before appealing to your compassionate side to ask for money. Criminals will use language to manipulate, persuade and exploit so that requests for money do not raise alarm bells. These requests might be highly emotive, such as criminals claiming they need money for emergency medical care, or to pay for transport costs to visit you if they are overseas.

How to spot a romance scam?

  1. You’ve met someone online and they declare strong feelings for you after a few conversations
  2. They suggest moving the conversation away from the dating website or social media to a more private channel such as email, phone or instant messaging
  3. Their profile on the internet dating website or their Facebook page isn’t consistent with what they tell you
  4. There are spelling and grammar mistakes, inconsistencies in their stories and they make claims such as their camera isn’t working
  5. They refuse to Skype, or video call/meet you in person
  6. Photos generally tend to be stolen from other people
  7. You’re asked to send money to someone you have not met face-to-face, either through bank/money transfer or through the purchase of gift cards or presents such as phones and laptops. You may even be asked to provide them with access to your bank account or card
  8. Upon questioning your friend or family member, they may become very secretive about their relationship or provide excuses for why their online partner has not video called or met them in person. They might become hostile or angry, and withdraw from conversation when you ask any questions about their partner

Example of a romance scam

Emma* signed up to an online dating website where she met an aid worker on duty in Iraq called ‘John’. Soon after befriending Emma, John told her that he’d lost his wife and brother to cancer, a story which was very similar to her own. They spoke nearly every day and planned to meet in the UK.

One day Emma received an email from John telling her that he’d been involved in an accident and that he needed an urgent operation. It was life or death. He told her he didn’t have the money to pay and asked if she could send him £5,000. Emma agreed and sent the money through a bank transfer.

Soon after Emma had transferred the money, John told her he needed more to cover hospital bills and convinced Emma to send a further £5,000, assuring her that he’d pay her back when he arrived in the UK.

John never contacted her again. His profile disappeared and he stopped replying to any of Emma’s messages or phone calls.

*Case studies are based on insights from partners

If you believe you’ve fallen for a scam, contact your bank immediately on a number you know to be correct, such as the one listed on your statement, their website or on the back of your debit or credit card.

Report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or via actionfraud.police.uk. If you are in Scotland, please report to Police Scotland directly by calling 101 or Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000.

Always remember

Avoid sending money to someone you’ve never met in person, particularly if you have only recently met online.


Research the person you’re talking to as profile photos may not be genuine. You can do this by uploading a picture of the person you’re talking to into your search engine to check that profile photos are not associated with another name. Performing a reverse image search can find photos that have been taken from somewhere, or someone, else.


Be alert to spelling and grammar mistakes and inconsistencies in stories


Stay on the dating sites messaging service until you’re confident the person is who they say they are and meetings in person take place in a public place


Always consider the possibility of a scam


Only accept friend requests from people you know and trust


Speak to your family or friends to get advice