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A woman is looking at smart phone; image used for How to protect your heart (and bank account) from romance scams.

How to protect your heart (and bank account) from romance scams

You and I are one and the same: we both know what a broken heart feels like. I'm so lucky to have found you.
I really miss you. What have you been up to this past week?

These sweet words may sound like music to anyone's ears, but they could also very well be rehearsed lines scammers use to catfish you and try to prompt you into revealing more about your personal life.

If you have never met this person in real life, then you should definitely be extra careful. A scammer could be investing time to build up a certain level of trust with you and become a regular fixture in your life. After that happens, you may start to see things quickly go south:

I've been travelling and am out of the country right now, so that's why I can't meet up with you. Plus, would you believe my bad luck? My webcam just stopped working!
I'm a little short on cash right now. Do you think you can help me out by wiring some money to tide me over? Even a few thousand dollars will help.

When someone you consider your 'online soulmate' seems to be finding constant excuses not to meet up and is always asking you for money, would you still believe you've found 'the one'?

No money, no honey?

You may think there's no way you'd fall for a honey trap, but in reality, quite a lot of people fall for dating scams and romance fraud. Our latest survey1 showed that a whopping over 80% of Hongkongers have been the target of the 6 most common types of fraud occurring in the city: digital payment, romance and job scams, identity theft, official impersonations, and bogus calls. The survey also revealed that 26% have already fallen prey to scams and lost an average of HKD3,800 as a result. Additionally, 30% of the respondents said they have encountered romance fraud and 7% of them actually lost money to such scammers.

You might be thinking: well, 7% isn't much, right? Wrong. Romance scams are responsible for the highest amount of financial losses among the 6 most common fraud scenarios, with victims being swindled of an average of over HKD4,000.

So which age group is most vulnerable and more likely to over their money to a fake honey? Based on our survey, Generation Y (individuals aged 25-39 years old) is more prone to falling prey to online dating scams because they're more open in sharing their HKID numbers, one-time-passwords (OTPs) and bank account details with their online 'partners'. But betting on a shady chance at love and sharing any of these details could really leave you with no money and no honey at the end of the day.

Tips to help you protect your heart and your pocket from online love scams

To keep your heart and your bank account away from the prying hands of romance scammers, be vigilant at all times and definitely don't be sending money to people you don't know much about. It's tempting to give in to the rush of emotions you may feel after initially finding a connection with someone online. But, take a pause. look out for red flags and remember these pivotal steps before you even think about emptying your pockets:
  • Protect your details:
    Do not give sensitive or private information to people you've never met, including your bank account numbers and passwords
  • Don't overshare your personal details on social media:
    Scammers can easily piece together a story from the information you share on your social media accounts and then con you using social engineering attacks
  • Be on your guard if the excuses start pouring in:
    Are you starting to receive a boatload of excuses from your online lover about them being unable to turn on their webcam or meet you in person? That's a huge red flag. Stay alert.
  • Don't reveal anything about your finances:
    Once they ask about your finances or request for money, it smells fishy and your alarm bells (and caution radar) should be going off.
  • Don't blindly trust information they provide:
    Photos or selfies they've sent you could very well be fake, so you need to do your own verification. Use an app or go online to reverse image search what they sent you to check if the pictures are genuine. A back story of their lives could also be completely conjured up, so ask probing questions and do your own investigation to check all the details out.

Love scammers are well-versed at their art of deception and know exactly how to tug at your heartstrings. Don't let their sweet talk lure you into giving up your bank details or other personal data. To find out more about the biggest cybersecurity threats other age groups face so you can empower the people you care about to protect themselves, here are some articles that are a great place to start:

If you think you've already experienced a scam, don't wait any longer and report it to us immediately.

1 Conducted in August and September 2020, the HSBC survey covers a sample size of 800 respondents aged 18-55 years old, which is representative of the Hong Kong population in terms of age and gender based on Hong Kong census data.