With Valentine’s Day upon us again - and sales of flowers, chocolates, and champagne go through the roof as loved up couples seek to celebrate this ‘day of love’ - it seems that singletons use this day as an opportunity too. According to a survey, the majority of people who use online dating will actually increase their usage around Valentine’s Day. However, with increased dating website/app usage comes increased ‘dating fraud’.
Dating fraud, or ‘romance scams’ as they are also known, involves a scammer creating a fake profile on an online dating website and scouring profiles to find victims who appear vulnerable and/or wealthy. They then make contact, appearing really interested, saying all the right things and playing on emotional triggers to draw that person in and make the victim believe that they are falling in love with them. After professing their love and winning the person’s trust, the requests for money then start. These requests come in many shapes and sizes, sometimes to save a family member in hospital, to save their business, or to pay for a plane ticket to visit. Before long, they will need more money, and the requests won’t stop until the victim runs out of money and the scammer disappears, never to be heard from again.
There are a couple of twists on this scam that have emerged recently, one of which includes the scammer being caught out and admitting their crime, before begging for forgiveness claiming they have fallen in love with the victim for real. By this time, the victim has such strong feelings of love and trust that they believe this story and stay in the scam. They will either continue to send more money or actually be caught up in crime themselves by allowing the scammer to send them money or parcels which the victim in turn sends elsewhere; meaning the victim has not only lost all their money but could also be guilty of money laundering. The other twist is that after the scammer has disappeared or been caught out, the victim will be contacted by someone claiming to be from the police or a private investigator saying they need help to catch the fraudster and advise that they need a small fee to cover costs. This supposed police officer will actually be someone from the same criminal group exploiting the fact that the victim wants justice and their money back.
With stats from National Fraud Intelligence Bureau showing that there are 7 reports made to Action Fraud every day – an increase of 32% over a 2 year period – and the average amount lost by a victim during a romance scam being £10,000 (making nearly £40 million lost because of dating fraud from between 2015 and 2016), it is so important that people are aware of the potential dangers. It is thought that the true scale of dating fraud is much worse than figures suggest, due to the embarrassment felt by a lot of victims at having fallen for the scam and therefore not wishing to report it.
However it’s not stupid people who fall for these scams. In an article published by the BBC in January, they reported how a university professor had fallen for just this type of scam. These fraudsters are clever and they know what they’re doing, getting to know their victims prior to contacting them using information on their profile or details they have found on social media and they know just what to say to win their trust.
There are therefore a few things for users of dating website or apps to remember, including checking online that the person is genuine, for example doing a Google search for their name or their name plus any repeatedly used phrases and the phrase ‘dating scam’.
Another helpful tip is to use an interesting feature of Google and perform a ‘reverse image search’. A lot of romance fraudsters will steal a photo from an innocent person’s social media account or use ‘model’ pictures. What Google enables you to do is actually search using the photos to see if they are on the Internet somewhere else and therefore discover if they are actually photos of another person.
It’s always good to apply common sense here and get to know the person, not the profile. Ask questions about them but do so using the dating site’s messaging service – a lot of fraudsters will try to move the conversation to social media or text message almost instantly to avoid being picked up as a scam by the dating site. Be very wary of anyone who advises that they have very strong feelings only a few days after the first contact. And the number one rule for online dating: never, ever send money to someone you’ve met online no matter what the reason is or how long you’ve known them.
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