Case study: Bad romance - police warn over fake romantics

The pursuit of cold hard cash, not undying love, is the primary passion of fraudsters targeting singletons. That's according to a decidedly unromantic campaign marking this year's Valentine's Day, which generated 200 news articles.

One of the images used by Action Fraud in its #fauxmance campaign
One of the images used by Action Fraud in its #fauxmance campaign

Action Fraud, Britain's national reporting centre for fraud, which is based at the City of London Police, mounted the #fauxmance campaign.

It aimed to alert people to the existence of fraudsters posing as prospective partners, in a crime that is on the increase.

More than £50m was lost to romance fraud last year – a leap of 27 per cent on 2017.

One of the key messages of the campaign was that people they meet online, over an app, or through social media may in fact be criminals using fake profiles to form a relationship.

The fraudsters will attempt to gain their target's trust and then approach them for money or try to get enough personal information to steal their identity.

One of the tips promoted during the week-long campaign was that people should never send money to or share their bank details with people they have met online.

The campaign ran from 10-15 February.A case study was chosen to reflect the campaign's key audience, with women accounting for nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of dating-fraud victims, the average age of whom is 50.

The victim, 67-year-old Elspet, from Tyneside, shared her story of losing nearly £10,000 to a fraudster who claimed to be in the British Army after she joined a dating site in 2016.

She struck up a relationship with a man claiming to be serving in Syria who asked for her help in getting his personal possessions brought back to the UK. There was just one small catch: he needed money to cover the costs of getting someone to bring his belongings home.

Elspet lost almost £10,000 trying to help before being unable to spend any more.

She is one of more than 4,500 people in the UK who report being conned by romance fraudsters each year.

Both traditional and social media were used during the campaign to alert people to this crime.

To maximise the amount of third-party support, campaign content was made available to partner organisations and other police forces in advance.

Ellie Kiai, press officer at City of London Police, told PRWeek: "The timing of this campaign, along with the shocking statistics, made for a particularly impactful and relevant message."

She added: "Through close engagement with other forces and key stakeholders, we were able to increase the campaign's reach both on social media and in regional press."

The campaign received more than 200 pieces of news coverage in national, local and trade-media outlets, and featured on broadcast platforms such as BBC Radio and ITV News.

In terms of social media, the tweets during the campaign week achieved approximately 500,000 impressions and 2,000 engagements.

Kiai commented: "This year's campaign benefitted from having a case study who was willing to engage with the press. This meant that the story landed well with both traditional and broadcast media."

In the coming months, the City of London Police comms team will assess whether there is a rise in people reporting suspected offences to Action Fraud. If so, this "could indicate that the campaign has been a success and that people are more aware of this fraud type", Kiai said.

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