Based on cases that the bank has seen throughout 2022, the average amount of money lost through a romance scam is almost £22k (£21,932.72), the highest amount of money lost on average across the different types of scam. While ‘Purchase Scams’, where people are encouraged to pay for goods that do not exist, are the most common type of scam, accounting for over six in ten (62.5%) of all scams reported to the bank, the emotional toll experienced by victims of romance scams should not be under-estimated.
David Callington, HSBC UK’s Head of Fraud, said: “Romance scams don’t just happen around Valentine’s Day, the process of grooming a victim and becoming trusted takes a while. It can take many months of messaging and conversation before the scammer makes their move to steal your money, with some scammers evening sending gifts or flowers to try and gain trust. The grim reality is these are people who sit behind fake profiles, taking advantage of the emotions of their victim and don’t care about the emotional toll it takes, or whether their victim even has a penny to name after their con is complete.
“Scammers are callous criminals who use every trick in the book to steal your money. Be vigilant, look for common tell-take signs, and while it is fun and exciting to be part of a whirlwind romance, becoming emotionally attached to people who you only know online, could leave you open to becoming a victim of a romance scam.”
Here’s the story of how one person was scammed out of almost £100k. The details are fictitious but are based on a genuine case. All the names, locations and other aspects have been changed to protect the anonymity of the individuals involved.
Two years after her husband died, Marjorie decided to start using a dating website for the first time. It was a service aimed at the over 50s, with a focus on those who’d been widowed.
After taking the plunge, she soon struck up an online conversation with a man called Gerald and they quickly hit it off. “Most communication was through WhatsApp, although we also spoke over the phone,” said Marjorie. Gerald claimed to be from Milton Keynes and told her he owned his own electrical business. He explained he was away in Dubai working on a major project building a shopping mall, so they weren’t able to meet. In fact, they never met face to face.
Marjorie recalls: “Towards the end of February, he began to mention that he was having cash flow problems with his business. He said he needed a short-term loan of funds to complete the building project.” He told her he would repay her when the project was complete, which he said he expected to be the beginning of April.
This is when alarm bells should have started to ring. You should never send money to someone you’ve only met online. Gerald sent Marjorie a copy of his passport, shipping documents and a link to a website showing his company Gerald Symonds Electrical. “He also sent an image of a cheque for £2 million which was due to him on completion of the project,” said Marjorie.
These all turned out to be fake.
Marjorie began by making payments from an account she held with another bank. In total, she transferred £54,000 from that account. Then she started to make payments from her HSBC UK account. A transfer of £42,000 was intended to be the final amount needed to allow Gerald to complete the building project in Dubai.
He told her if the bank asked her what the payment was for, she should say it was for building work on her home. Marjorie said: “I had genuinely been having work done on my home around the same time.”
As the fraudster expected, staff in Marjorie’s local HSBC UK branch did ask her about the purpose of the payment and accepted her well-rehearsed explanation.
Marjorie made a second transfer from her HSBC UK account. Gerald said this was needed to cover health and safety checks and inspections before the building project was handed back over to the owners.
When Marjorie tried to make yet another payment, the local branch used the UK’s Banking Protocol scheme to call the police and uncover the scam.
Gerald Symonds was a fake identity created by criminals. HSBC UK, the police and the other banks involved launched investigations into the fraud.
Marjorie was the victim of a romance scam. Typically, it starts with a fast-moving online relationship, with the fraudster often claiming to be working or travelling outside the UK. They then start asking for money. Sometimes it’s to cover the cost of coming to the UK, or they may claim they have a relative who needs an urgent operation which they can’t afford to pay for.
Fraudsters are known to target victims by setting up fake profiles on dating websites, apps and social media. Beware of criminals looking to exploit your emotions with romance scams. They’ll make you feel loved, build trust, then start asking for money.
They might tell you:
They might also ask you to help fund an investment opportunity. Never send money to someone you’ve only met online.
If you think you’ve fallen for a romance scam, you can call us using the number on the back of your credit or debit card and report it to Action Fraud.
Romance scams are among the most common types of fraud. They usually begin with a fast-moving online relationship, but end in financial crime.
These scams work by exploiting your emotions. Fraudsters set up fake profiles on dating websites, apps and social media. They try to appeal to your compassionate side and then ask for money. Some of the typical reasons they’ll use are:
To avoid falling victim to a romance scam, never send money to someone you’ve only met online.
Fraudsters often go to great lengths to gain your trust, sometimes sending gifts such as flowers, wine or chocolates.
They usually ask for lots of personal information, but share very little about themselves.
If several of the points below apply to an online relationship you’re in, it could be a sign you’re actually dealing with a fraudster:
One of these points on its own may be innocent. But more than one, together with a request for money, can be a sign that it’s a romance scam.
About HSBC UK
HSBC UK serves over 14.85 million customers across the UK, supported by 23,500 colleagues. HSBC UK offers a complete range of retail banking and wealth management to personal and private banking customers, as well as commercial banking for small to medium businesses and large corporates. HSBC UK Bank plc is a wholly owned subsidiary of HSBC Holdings plc.
HSBC Holdings plc, the parent company of HSBC, is headquartered in London. HSBC serves customers worldwide from offices in 63 countries and territories in its geographical regions: Europe, Asia, North America, Latin America, and Middle East and North Africa. With assets of $2,992bn at 30 September 2022, HSBC is one of the world’s largest banking and financial services organisations.