Falling prey to love: Romance scam victims rise by 22% in 2023

Rick Steves

Women reported higher average losses (£9,083) compared to men (£5,145). Individuals aged 55-64 were most frequently targeted, with a 49% rise in cases from 2022. Those aged 65-74 suffered the highest financial losses, averaging £13,123.

In 2023, the number of people duped by romance scams rose by 22% compared to the previous year, as reported by Lloyds Bank.

Despite the increase in the number of victims, the average loss per victim decreased to £6,937, compared to £8,237 in 2022.

What is a romance scam

Romance scams involve fraudsters feigning love interest to deceive their targets. They typically use counterfeit photos and details on social media and dating apps. These con artists spend considerable time building trust, often feigning affection and attention.

The fraudsters usually have various excuses to avoid in-person meetings or video calls. Commonly, they claim to be working in the military or with international charities. The scam evolves with requests for money, citing reasons like family emergencies, medical bills, or travel expenses.

Women reported higher average losses (£9,083) compared to men (£5,145). Individuals aged 55-64 were most frequently targeted, with a 49% rise in cases from 2022. Those aged 65-74 suffered the highest financial losses, averaging £13,123.

“No good relationship starts off by sending money”

Liz Ziegler, Fraud Prevention Director at Lloyds Bank, commented: “Targeting those looking for love is a cruel, but sadly common, way for fraudsters to cash in. Scammers can be incredibly convincing and leave their victims both emotionally and financially drained.

“Social media and online dating apps are rife with fake profiles, and it can be hard to tell who is genuine. Remember that no good relationship starts off by sending money to someone you haven’t met and this should be a big red flag.

“As soon as someone you’re talking to starts asking for money, step back from the situation and never hand anything over. Talking to a real-life friend or family member can be a good way to sense check what’s going on.”

‘Pig Butchering’ has become a global problem

Last month, the US Department of Justice brought charges against four individuals over a $80 million ‘Pig Butchering’ scam, which is a kind of romance scam that emerged in China and has since become widespread globally, increasingly coming to the attention of leading regulators, such as the CFTC.

The Pig Butchering scheme consists of fraudsters cultivating a friendly or romantic relationship with a potential customer to “fatten” them up with falsehoods, before soliciting the customer to participate in a fraudulent financial opportunity, in this case, fraudulent digital asset and forex trading.

MetaTrader suspended in 2022 over romance scams

Last year’s suspension of MetaQuotes products from the Apple Store – the iOS versions of MetaTrader 4 and MetaTrader 5 – were directly tied to the ‘pig butchering’ scams, according to an Apple spokesperson and a Forbes investigation.

It seems that Apple decided to suspend MetaQuotes apps even though the had reportedly taken action of its own a couple of months ago. The firm had allegedly made it harder for white-label providers to onboard clients in order to prevent its use by scammers.

The iOS versions of MetaTrader 4 and MetaTrader 5 were reinstated in March 2023 after being suspended for months due to the abovementioned security concerns and several fraud cases using MT4/5.

According to MetaQuotes, during the lengthy process of restoring the apps, the trading platform provider communicated to Apple extended explanations surrounding operational technicalities and provided further insights as requested.

All matters have been resolved and the iOS applications of MetaTrader 4 and MetaTrader 5, fully compliant with Apple’s requirements, are now available for download from the App Store, the firm stated.

The suspension of MT4/5 from the Apple Store was one of the hottest topics of 2022 and led many brokers to reevaluate their reliance on one single trading platform provider. The popularity of MetaTrader led to standardization, making it easy and cheap to set up the technology part of a brokerage. This helped create a large FX/CFD retail market that opened up trading to everyone.

This, however, has weakened brokers’ differentiation capabilities which is an increased risk for them. It also led to more bad actors, who churn clients via lead lists because clients are loyal to the platform, not the broker.

Apple was never public about the reasons for suspending the products by MetaQuotes, but it came on the heels of extensive reporting and police investigations about FX scams using MT4 and MT5.

One of the most high profile cases was covered by Forbes in September 2022 about super scam ‘Pig Butchering’ and how it used MetaTrader to defraud investors. Apple spokesperson Adam Dema told Forbes the company was investigating complaints about MetaTrader and would take additional action to protect App Store users if necessary.

Prior to the suspension, MetaQuotes was reportedly trying to tackle the abuse by making it harder for white-label providers to onboard clients.

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