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Romance Scam Research Center

2022: UK: Meeting you was a fake: investigating the increase in romance fraud during COVID-19

Buil-Gil, David; Zeng, Yongyu.  Journal of Financial Crime; London Vol. 29, Iss. 2, (2022): 460-475. DOI:10.1108/JFC-02-2021-0042



Romance fraud refers to situations where an individual is deceived for financial gain by someone with whom the victim perceives to be in a romantic relationship. With the increase in internet use, the growth in loneliness and the increasing engagement in online dating sites during COVID-19, opportunities for romance fraud may have suffered an important increase. This paper aims to analyse changes in romance fraud, loneliness and internet use during the pandemic.


Data about romance fraud reported to the police in the UK, and survey data recorded by the Understanding Society longitudinal survey, are used to address our research questions. Auto regressive integrated moving average (ARIMA) modelling is used to analyse whether temporal changes observed are an effect of social changes associated with lockdown and stay-at-home orders.


The analysis shows that cyber-enabled romance fraud experienced a large increase after April 2020, which is greatly above any expected crime variation considering known pre-COVID trends. The increase in romance fraud was more abrupt among young adults than older persons. The results also indicate that only young adults experienced a significant increase in loneliness, while older adults reported a large increase in internet use during COVID.


To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is a first-of-its-kind paper analysing the effect of rapid social changes on a growing type of cyber-enabled fraud. It is likely that the growth in romance fraud during COVID is due to a combined effect of an increase in internet use and growing loneliness rates experienced by many people during the pandemic."

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