Romance fraud: For love or for money?


Following Valentine's Day, there is one type of fraud on everyone's lips - Romance fraud.

Dating online without meeting in person has become the new normal throughout the pandemic, and fraudsters jumped at the opportunity of making money from lock-down loneliness.

Romance fraud boomed in the UK, with a 40 percent rise in reports in the year to April 2021, with losses reaching more than $95m. There was also a 20 percent rise in related bank transfers.

And you’d be wrong to assume the victims are to blame. During the UK’s lock-down, a former police special constable in England was conned out of more than $650,000 by two fraudsters who began by providing words of comfort following the death of her husband.

The actual figures for romance fraud are likely to be even higher, as many victims are too embarrassed or upset to report it officially. 

So, what are the warning signs we should be looking out for? The Agenda’s Stephen Cole speaks to Criminologist Dr. Elizabeth Carter.


Dr. Elisabeth Carter is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Kingston University.

Carter's work examines points at which language and the law intersect in both legal and illegal worlds.

Her role as a Forensic Linguist helps police identify notable phrases used during interactions between fraudsters and targeted victims and the abuses of power throughout the grooming process.

Carter also teaches about policing and crime victims, with her research often shared on national platforms.


Asked about the tactics used by romance fraudsters, Carter says they take their time to lure victims in:

"They try to instill a sense of trust in the person they're talking to, so they reveal little bits about themselves…Of course, all of this is entirely made up. They might say, 'I've got children, I've got pets...' They also say things that make them look a bit vulnerable.

"We have this idea fraudsters are going to be aggressive when trying to get your money from you. But actually, they do something very different; They show that they're vulnerable.

"They might even say they've been a victim of fraud themselves…"

Asked what part the pandemic may have played in the rise of romance fraud; Carter says screens provide the perfect hiding place for fraudsters:

"We've all moved more into the online arena now, since the pandemic in particular, and there's this feeling that we're a bit safer when we're not meeting somebody face-to-face.

"Unfortunately, for fraudsters, this also enables them to ply this illicit criminal trade, and people often find it difficult to assess risk and harm when they're online on social media."


Tony Sales describes his journey from conman to consultant and how he's now helping to fight back against the future versions of his former self.

Professor Mark Button explains the types of fraud that have flourished since the pandemic.

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