Increase in victims of romance scams in 2023


Victims of romance scams increased by more than a fifth (22%) in 2023 compared to 2022, according to new figures from Lloyds Bank.

The average amount lost per incident was £6,937 ($8,847) last year. That’s less than in 2022, when the average loss was £8,237 ($10,505).

Romance scams have grown in recent years, with attackers exploiting fake profiles on social media and online dating apps to lure potential victims.

They are also commonly used as a gateway to other types of fraud and malicious cyber activity. In December 2023, Channel parsing found that attackers frequently establish relationships with their victims using romance scam techniques in approval phishing scams.

What are the common characteristics of romance scams?

The Lloyds report noted that romance fraudsters are often very sophisticated, spending time building trust with their victims online, “showering them with affection and attention.”

Their profiles on social media and dating sites will be carefully created, often using fake photos and information.

Scammers will come up with plenty of excuses as to why they can’t meet in person or show their faces on video calls. Lloyds said common excuses include working in the armed forces or in international aid and charity work.

After establishing trust with the victim, they will ask for money for reasons such as family problems or medical expenses. They often start asking for small amounts and increase them over time.

The new data revealed that men were slightly more likely to be victims of romance scams, accounting for 52% of incidents.

However, when women are victims, they report significantly higher average losses than men – £9,083 ($11,589) compared to £5,145 ($6,564).

People aged 55 to 64 were most likely to be deceived by romance scammers, and the number of cases in this age group increased by 49% compared to 2022.

The age group that lost the most money to these scams was between 65 and 74 years old. These victims lost an average of £13,123 ($16,742) per incident.

How to detect romance scammers

Liz Ziegler, director of fraud prevention at Lloyds Bank, highlighted the enormous emotional and financial damage caused by romance scams.

She advised: “Social media and online dating apps are full of fake profiles, and it can be difficult to tell who is genuine. Remember, no good relationship starts with sending money to someone you haven’t met and that should be a big red flag.

The British banking giant gave the following advice to avoid falling victim to this type of fraud:

  • Be wary of profile photos that look professional or model-like, and do a reverse search when possible.
  • Talk to someone who already knows you well to get their perspective if in doubt about a profile you’re talking to
  • Be wary when someone has endless excuses for why they can’t meet in person.
  • Never send money or disclose personal or financial information to someone you only met online.

AI used in romance scams

Cybercriminals have been observed using generative AI tools such as ChatGPT to boost social engineering attacks, including romance scams.

In August 2023, Sophos researchers observed that the notorious CryptoRom campaign, which combines fake cryptocurrency exchanges and romance scams, uses generative AI tools to attract and interact with victims.

Jake Moore, Global Cybersecurity Advisor at ESET, explained that AI chatbots make it harder for victims to detect such scams.

“Scammers target people with clever psychological techniques to impress them and even use the latest powerful AI to help them in this manipulation,” he noted.

Read more: Nigerian ‘Yahoo Boys’ behind US social media sextortion wave

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