Romance Scams Broke Hearts and Stole Millions from U.K. Victims

British authorities have reported that people in the U.K. lost more than US$113 million last year in so-called "romance scams" – a type of scam where a perpetrator creates a fake identity, gains the victim's affection and trust and then empties his or her bank account.

love scamPeople can lose their entire savings when victim of a romance scam, and in some extreme cases, they are even forced to remortgage their homes. (Photo: amrothman, Pixabay, License)According to a press release published on Monday, the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) received 8,036 reports of romance fraud, corresponding to over 92 million pounds ($112,559,440.00) lost in the U.K., with an average loss of 11,500 pounds ($13,915.80) per victim.

"Despite being a 6.7 percent reduction on last year's reports of 8,710, romance fraud continues to have devastating emotional and financial consequences for victims across the U.K.," said Detective Superintendent Gary Miles from the City of London Police.

Swindlers can find fertile ground for their scams on dating apps, sites, and social media platforms where individuals seek love and affection.

This type of scam can often be a long-term project for the perpetrators as they spend time getting to know their victims, identifying their weaknesses, and using manipulative and coercive techniques to gain access to their victims' wallets.

"They look for your weaknesses, and mine is my son and not having his dad around. He made a point of being interested in everything my son did. Taking time to talk to him when we were on the phone together and praising him. He praised me constantly on what a great job I was doing bringing him up on my own, telling me he wanted to take care of me," said Vicky, a romance scam victim.

Additionally, these heartbreakers often support their narratives and fake personas using fake documents, sites, and companies, pretending they are legitimate.

Afterward, the scammers tend to isolate and manipulate their victims to make them even more vulnerable.

"I was lying to her. She became sick, she became depressed, seeing doctors, you know, her kids stopped talking to her because she's more focused on me than her family," a scammer from Nigeria told OCCRP in August.

The U.K. is just one of the countries affected by romance scams.

Data from the Federal Trade Commission in the U.S. shows the most common lies used by perpetrators to convince victims to give them money.

"I or someone close to me is sick, hurt, or in jail" are the most common ones, or they can pretend to be an investor and be willing to teach their victims how to invest their money. Money that they will never see again if given to the alleged "investment expert," the FTC said.

Olivia James, a therapist specializing in trauma, explained to The Guardian that this type of crime can cause serious financial and mental damage, leading "to post-traumatic stress disorder and other long-term mental health conditions."

"People feel completely destabilized. They stop trusting themselves or anyone else. As humans, we need connections with others, so being betrayed by someone you thought was your soulmate is incredibly hard," James said.