Victims of Romance Scams Are Made To Feel Like Criminals By Banks
Romance scams have increased over the years. The cases are on the rise, and people have lost all their savings due to such scams.
One such incident was when Rachel Elwell, a 51-year-old business development manager, got a message on New Year’s Day in 2021. She did not realize that she would lose all her savings to a man she had never met.
How it Started
Rachel joined Facebook dating during the lockdown when her sister and friends convinced her to give online dating a shot. At the time, she was living on her own in Coventry and was working from home. She wasn’t really set on finding love, but she did want to meet someone. She said that she did not have expectations at all and was really happy to be independent. However, at the same time, she wanted to chat with people.
On January 1st, Rachel got a message from a man she had matched with called Stephen. She says that he looked really happy and friendly in his photos, and he was only 25 miles away, which is a reasonable distance if you wanted to meet for coffee. They started chatting and hit it off. They both shared interests such as liking dogs and dancing, and she was actually moved by his story that he was widowed seven years back and raised his teenage daughter all alone.
After talking for about three weeks, Stephen asked Elwell for money, saying he had an engineering degree in Ukraine and needed a couple of hundred pounds to clear an expected tax bill related to his work. This was when Elwell got a little suspicious because he said that he had no family to ask for help and promised her that we would pay back. Elwell says that he groomed her with his story, which made her have empathy for him and his daughter. He was just really clever and manipulative.
Stephen’s lies started becoming more elaborate as time passed. Once, he even said that he was held hostage by Russian loan sharks and they would kill him if he did not pay. Elwell took loads of loans in order to help him as if she was responsible for his life. Over these few months, she gave him £113,000.
Elwell got further suspicious when she asked Stephen to meet her at Heathrow Airport, but he never showed up. He said that he was held for ransom by the Ukrainian airport officials. After three months, on April 1st, Stephen asked his housekeeper to meet Elwell at his home in Coventry; however, he had no idea who Stephen was, and this is when Elwell found out the truth.
Elwell says that when she found out that all of this was a lie, she felt like the world was closing in. She was not heartbroken but was only wondering why she was financially ruined.
How The Scams Are a Headache For Financial Institutes
The rise in online dating, as well as “lockdown loneliness”, led to a huge increase in online romance scams. More than a third of people who dated online were asked for money, according to a survey. Moreover, it has been released that in the first half of 2021, £15.1m was lost to romance scammers, which is a 62% increase compared to 2020. Elwell says that the entire thing made her suicidal, and she still takes antidepressants and seeks counseling.
These scams have also caused complex issues for banks. Financial institutions raise their concerns over a person’s unusual payment, and some victims have been manipulated so much that they ignore such warnings. Ed Fisher, who is the head of fraud policy nationwide, said that addressing romance scams with victims is really hard. In Elwell’s case, she is not eligible to be reimbursed for the amount of money she lost. Victims only got £5.3m back last year from a total of £15.1m.
There are loads of banks that signed up to the CRM, which is a voluntary code that reimburses victims of dating scams and other payment fraud. Victims are likely to be reimbursed, given the banks did not give a warning beforehand. If there are cases where the transactions seem to be genuine, their case may be reimbursed. However, if it doesn’t, then the victims can take their cases to the ombudsman.
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Your Carelessness Cannot be Recovered All The Times
The outcomes differ for each and every case, according to Fisher. For example, a widower dating for the first time would be seen differently compared to a young person dating online for loads of years. Elwell says that this approach is referred to as victim-blaming. If you are a mugging victim, you can’t expect the police to ask you if you put up a fight or not. The banks and the CRM code make people believe that they are criminals.
Santander and HSBC, both of Elwell’s banks, are signed up to the CRM and have completely refused to reimburse her on the basis that she had proceeded with the payments even though she got fraud warnings from the bank. They say that she did not intervene quickly and did not communicate with the bank either.
Santander stopped her from making an international payment of £30,000. However, she proceeded with it from her HSBC account. Moreover, her payment is also not eligible as they were made to a Ukrainian bank account, and the CRM code does not cover any international payments even though there are loads of scammers who operate from overseas.
Santander stated that they had the utmost sympathy for Elwell; however, they had repeatedly warned her of the dangers of transferring money to someone she had never met before. They had also raised the concern with her as well as the police.
HSBC says they are sorry to hear about the scam but had fulfilled all its responsibilities under the CRM code. Elwell says that the firms should communicate with each other to help vulnerable customers and train their staff to help them identify potential victims.
- Author: Sarah Dawood https://www.newstatesman.com/business/finance/2022/04/youre-made-to-feel-like-the-criminal-why-victims-of-romance-scams-feel-let-down-by-banks
- Author: Lizzie Cernik https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2022/jan/10/it-felt-like-losing-a-husband-the-fraudsters-breaking-hearts-and-emptying-bank-accounts
- Author: Vicky Shaw https://www.independent.co.uk/money/romance-scam-victims-make-payments-over-two-months-on-average-bank-finds-b2010826.html
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