Scots have been warned to be aware of ‘catfishing’ romance 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 highlighting the tactics used by scammers to exploit situations of loneliness or isolation of their targets.
Romance fraud involves victims being convinced to make a payment to a person they have met either through social media or on a dating website or app. Criminals regularly use some form of ‘catfishing’, the act of luring someone into a relationship by creating a fictional persona or fake identity online. A common tactic is to pretend to have a job that requires long periods of travel, for example a nurse working overseas, someone in the military, or an offshore worker. After exchanging numerous messages and gaining their trust, scammers often ask for help for an issue with a visa, health problems or flight tickets and the target can be convinced to make several payments.
Other scammers will seek to manipulate people into ‘investing’ in fake get-rich-quick schemes, including cryptocurrency. Some may resort to the use of blackmail through pictures or videos they have obtained to extort money or silence the other party.
Advice Direct Scotland warned people to avoid revealing too many personal details early into a conversation online and stressed that they should never give out their bank details.
The charity also issued advice on identifying potential scams, including 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.
For more information please visit www.consumeradvice.scot/avoidthecatfish.
Advice Direct Scotland’s key tips to identify scammers and avoid being catfished:
- Avoid revealing too many personal details too early into the conversation and never share 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.
- 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.
- And remember – if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.
Free, impartial and practical advice is available to anyone in Scotland through Advice Direct Scotland’s consumeradvice.scot service.
Consumers can seek help in a number of different ways: freephone 0808 164 6000; and online, web chat and email at www.consumeradvice.scot.
If you believe you have been the target of a ‘catfishing’ or other 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. The ScamWatch Quick Reporting Tool is also available to report suspected scams and suspicious activity at www.scamwatch.scot.
Lyndsay McFee, project lead at consumeradvice.scot, said:
“With all of us spending longer online it is more important than ever to be aware of the tactics employed by scammers who exploit situations of isolation and loneliness for personal gain. Criminals continually look for ways to take advantage of people, using romantic feelings to abuse their trust and trick them into parting with their money or personal information. The use of ‘catfishing’ tactics can have an emotional as well as financial impact on people.
We also know scammers are trying to exploit Scottish consumers, hit by the cost-of-living crisis, with fake cryptocurrency and investment offers.
Throughout the campaign, we are encouraging people to avoid being scammed by ‘catfish’ and other online fraudsters. It’s important to remember there is no shame in being scammed, and consumers who are worried or need help can contact one of our specialist advisers for free, impartial and practical advice.”