More and more people are now looking online to find love, but those who do need to be on their guard, as fraudsters are out in force and playing on people’s vulnerability as they try to meet a potential partner.
Romance scams take many different forms, but many involve singletons meeting people through internet dating sites and apps, as well as via social media, direct emails, and chatrooms.
In many cases, conmen will set up an online dating profile and befriend a victim before convincing them to part with cash.
Those posing as a prospective love interest can be very persuasive, and frequently manipulate their victims into believing they have established a strong emotional bond.
They may take months – or even years – speaking to someone online, before ultimately coming up with a reason why they urgently need money transferred into their account.
The cost of romance fraud
Figures from the National Fraud Bureau and Get Safe Online show that online dating fraud in the UK cost victims a huge £27 million last year.
Findings also reveal that criminals can con an average of £10,000 out of a person through a romance scam.
Further statistics show that people aged between 50-59 are the most likely victims, accounting for a quarter of all frauds – and losing just over £6 million.
As well as the financial loss, victims of “lonely heart scam” scams also feel the emotional impact of discovering the person they fell for is a fraudster; many can feel violated and ashamed.
While dating scams are rife, lots go unreported, as a lot of people are too embarrassed to admit they were caught out.
Conmen will use a variety of emotive reasons to try and persuade love-struck victims to send money. Here are some of the common scams.
Scammers posing as military personnel
Fraudsters will claim to be military personnel based overseas who require funds for flights home or early discharge from the forces.
Financial help with medical costs
Conmen say they need money for an emergency, such as surgery for themselves, or to pay for medical costs for a sick son or daughter.
While the fraudster may arrange to meet so they can “repay” you, this meeting never materialises.
Money for travel costs
The scammer will claim he wants to “meet” you but then asks for money to help pay travel costs.
The fraudster may then claim he needs to replace a plane ticket which has been stolen, or because his credit card is at its limits. Once again, the “meeting” never actually happens and the money is never repaid.
Cash for on-going educational courses or visa applications
On occasions, the story may be even more elaborate, with the criminal trying to con you into paying for educational courses or qualifications to support a visa application. With this type of scam, someone can end up repeatedly sending money until they become suspicious; by this point, they may have lost thousands of pounds.
Tell-tale signs your date may be a fraudster
- They want to chat with you via instant messaging and text, rather than through the dating website or chatroom where you met.
- They ask lots of questions about you, but reveal little about themselves.
- They shower you with compliments, or are quick to start calling you by a pet name.
- Their profile is a little too perfect. They might, for example, look like an actor or model.
- Their messages are filled with poor spelling and grammatical errors.
- Also be wary of anyone who tries to move things along very quickly, or who expresses undying love within just a few weeks – despite not having met you in person.
Tips to help you stay safe:
- When using a dating website, you need to remain vigilant at all times. And always trust your instincts. If something feels wrong, it probably is.
- Check the site manually approves members, and whether it will enforce its policies against inappropriate use.
- Try to avoid giving out private information. Opt for a site that will protect your anonymity until you choose to reveal personal details.
- Only give out things such as your phone number, place of work or address when you feel comfortable doing so.
- Do all that you can to check out the profile of the person you are talking to. If you aren’t convinced that someone is genuine, speak to a family member or friend to get a second opinion. If you’re still not sure, close down the conversation right away.
- Use a dating site that offers the ability to email prospective dates using a service that conceals both parties’ true email addresses.
- Pick a user name that does not include any personal information. For example, “Jane_Liverpool” would be a bad choice.
- Never send or transfer money to someone you have only met online, no matter how genuine they seem, or however heart-wrenching their story. Do not hand over credit card information or online account details.
- Be extremely wary about taking clothes off or doing other things in front of your webcam that could be used against you. This applies even if you think you know the other party.
- Check the privacy settings on all of your social media accounts so you are only sharing information with the people you want to share it with.
- Always meet for the first few times in a safe place with plenty of people around – and always tell a friend or family member where you are.
Report scams to the police
If you think you have fallen victim to a scam, you need to report it to Action Fraud immediately.
Call 0300 123 2040 or visit http://actionfraud.police.uk/. Also visit Getsafeonline.org.