14 Feb 2022

Love is Blind: Feelings of loneliness and isolation go hand in hand with romance scams

  • Three in ten people who are lonely & socially isolated say it makes them ripe for romance scams
  • Number of people saying they’ve no contact with friends and family trebles since March 2020
  • Two thirds have felt suspicious over dating profiles but 12% would carry on flirting regardless
  • Young people particularly vulnerable as more use dating apps and more have felt ‘on their own’
  • Follows Nationwide’s launch of Scam Checker Service, available in branch or over the telephone

Around three in ten people who feel lonely (rising to four in ten 18-34 year olds) say that their situation is leaving them wide open to romance scams at a time of year many will be looking for love, new research from Nationwide Building Society shows. 

As Valentine’s Day approaches, Nationwide commissioned the national survey1 as part of its wider efforts to tackle scams through education. The Society’s own data shows that speaking to members before they make a payment could help identify and stop almost two thirds (65%) of attempted scams each year, which is what led it to creating a free-to-use Scam Checker Service via branch and telephone.

Loneliness and lack of contact with friends and family:

The pandemic has led to increased levels of loneliness, according to the poll, which shows six per cent of people had no interaction with friends or family on an average week before Covid-19 struck. However, that percentage has nearly tripled to 17 per cent since March 2020, with more than half (53%) having spent prolonged periods alone.

And while more than four in five (82%) admit to having experienced spells of loneliness or social isolation at some point, one in five (20%) say they experience it daily.

Susceptibility to (romance) scams:

Of those who have experienced social isolation and loneliness, nearly a third (29%) believe those feelings make them more susceptible to being a victim of a romance scam. Despite this, a third (33%) of people who had those feelings admitted they would be more likely to trust someone - even if they didn’t know them.

But in a sop to the view that older people think that loneliness and social isolation might make them more susceptible to scams, it’s younger people who particularly believe this to be the case – four in ten (40%) 18-34 year olds feel this way compared to just under a quarter (23%) of those aged 45-54 and less than fifth (17%) of people aged 55 and over. More generally, 93 per cent of 18-34 year olds admit to being socially isolated or having feelings of loneliness at some point – 11 per cent more than the average.

This fear appears to play out in reality, with a quarter (25%) of those who have experienced loneliness or social isolation at least once a week having been snared by a scam. This compares to a UK average of 21 per cent. Of those who admit to having been a victim, nearly one in ten (8%) say it was a romance scam.

There are a number of reasons given as to why people feel lonely; the top five being: depression (34%), lack of confidence (32%), difficulty in making friends (25%), being an introvert (23%) and shyness (23%).

Social media friendships:

Almost half (45%) of Brits admit to spending more time interacting on social media than in person, with more than a third (35%) admitting they have more ‘digital’ friendships than physical ones. According to the Nationwide poll, the average person has around one friend for every four social media friends (14 versus 63).

Dating apps:

That may be why, when it comes to looking for love, 16 per cent have started or resumed using dating apps since the start of the year, with a further four per cent saying they never stopped using them throughout the pandemic. A further eight per cent plan to start using them soon. Younger people are particularly likely to be using dating apps, with nearly a third (31%) of people aged 18-34 using them since the new year, compared to just 15 per cent of 45-54 year olds and just three per cent of those aged 55 and over.

More than two thirds (67%) of people say they have reason to be suspicious on dating apps. These include:

  • Seeing the same photo used in a profile that is also used in another profile (39%).
  • Language and grammar within the profile and conversations (37%).
  • Love bombing (influencing someone through demonstrations of affection and attention) (30%).
  • The location of the person in the profile (27%).

Even if they were suspicious about the motives of the person they were chatting to online, more than one in ten (12%) admitted they would carry on engaging with them. Feelings of loneliness and social isolation also play a role in this, with nearly one in five (17%) of those who experience one or both at least once a week saying they would carry on chatting despite their suspicions.

At the same time, however, it’s perhaps people’s wariness that is leading to two thirds (67%) of people saying they share information with friends and family about who they are chatting to online or dating. This increases to 72 per cent of 18 to 34s, but actually falls to just 49 per cent of those aged 55 and over.

While using dating apps, some 45 per cent have been asked for money by someone, with 16 per cent of those sending the money, and with men more likely than women to do so (19% vs 13%). Nearly two in five (38%) of those using dating apps say they’ve been given an excuse about why the other person can’t meet face-to-face.

Nationwide Scam Checker Service:

Nationwide has educational information available online about scams to help people protect themselves. In addition, the Society launched a Scam Checker Service in September last year that enables its members to check a payment they are worried about either in branch or by calling a 24/7 freephone number (0800 030 4057). If the payment is given the go ahead and the member is subsequently scammed, Nationwide will fully reimburse the loss.

Ed Fisher, Head of Fraud Policy at Nationwide Building Society, said: “Loneliness is often invisible and isn’t only felt by older people or those who may have lost someone close. In fact, our research demonstrates that young people can be even more susceptible to these feelings. While making human connections is essential, particularly where feelings of isolation are involved, there is unfortunately a minority of people out there that will take advantage.  People should be aware of the tell-tale signs of a romance scam and be prepared to step away if necessary.

“Criminals can be very convincing and persuasive enough to get someone looking for love or feeling lonely to give them their trust, personal details and ultimately their money, even when they haven’t actually met each other in person. People looking for love need to protect their wallet as well as their hearts by looking out for any warning signs, doing their own background checks, and talking about their relationships with other friends and family, who have their best interests at heart.” 

Warning signs to look out for with romance scams

  • Real photo or too good to be true? Romance scammers often provide photos that may have been stolen from many places online, whether that be from professional websites, or from another person’s social media profiles.
  • Attentive or controlling? Scammers may establish constant contact, encouraging you to keep the relationship secret and get you to communicate with them outside the dating site, such as email, phone or instant messaging.
  • Besotted or obsessive? They are likely to fall in love with you very quickly and declare strong feelings for you after a few conversations. They will work hard to get you to match their feelings.
  • Generic or endearing? Scammers often use scripts and are in contact with more than one victim at a time. They may avoid using your name and instead use generic terms of endearment like ‘honey’, ‘babe’ or ‘angel’.
  • Consistency or flaws in the language and story: Their profile on the internet dating website or social media page may include spelling and grammatical mistakes and not be consistent with what they tell you.
  • Available or remote? Many avoid meeting in person and have a variety of reasons as to why they can’t meet, such as working abroad and being unable to travel. They may also give reasons why they cannot even show themselves over a video call.
  • Financially stable or in crisis? At some point they will introduce a crisis that means you need to help them financially, such as needing help with medical fees, an ill relative, paying for materials or tools for their business, travel expenses, or avoid persecution. It may even mean you become complicit in their fraud.

Tips to avoid becoming a victim of a romance scam

  • Keep conversations on the (reputable) dating sites’ messaging service until you’re confident they are who they say they are and you have met them face-to-face in a public safe place.
  • Be alert to any inconsistencies in stories and suspicious if they cannot show themselves on camera and meet in person.
  • Do as much research as you can do about the person you’re talking too. You can use search engines to check the profile picture of the person you’re speaking to isn’t associated with someone else.
  • Talk about your relationships with other friends and family you trust. They may spot something you haven’t about your new love.
  • Don’t isolate yourself from your friends or family. Tell others that you are in a relationship and share information. Often scammers will try and make it a ‘secret’ between the two of you.
  • Only accept friend requests on your social media channels from people you know and trust.
  • Never send or receive money from someone you’ve only met online and not in person, especially to fund something that is unrelated to your relationship.
  • If the person isn’t being honest, stop contact immediately.
  • If you have already sent money, contact your financial institution and the police for help and advice – keep anything you may have that could be evidence.

Notes to editors

1 Nationally representative survey conducted online by Censuswide between 25th and 27th January 2022 with 2,008 UK consumers, weighted by gender, age and region. Censuswide abides by and employs members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.