It has been revealed that almost £92 million has been lost via internet romance scams – and police are urging families of online daters to help protect their relatives.
Fraudsters often use a range of stories to get victims to transfer them money without it raising suspicion.
The stories are often believable, to a certain extent, and something that the victim would find hard to say no to, especially because of their emotional attachment.
Examples of stories include funding travel to visit the victim, money to pay for emergency medical expenses, lucrative investment opportunities and pretending to be military personnel or working overseas.
Between November 2020 and October 2021 Cumbria police received 63 reports of romance fraud.
Detective Sergeant Jonathan Kelly said: “These scams can be extremely sophisticated and those victim to such a scam should not be embarrassed and are encouraged to report it.
“Many victims are convinced that the person is real with the fraudster gaining the victims trust over weeks with fabricated details on their lives, before a story is produced asking for money. These will have a variety of emotive reasons and as the emotional relationship has already been formed, victims often transfer money without a second thought.
“We would urge people to protect themselves and make family members aware of the warning signs if they are online dating who might not be aware of the type of scam.
“Together with our partners, we are urging people to look after themselves online and aim to spot the signs of romance fraud.”
Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Peter McCall, said: “Romance fraud scammers are criminally manipulative people, who can come across as very believable and genuine.
“People can easily be tempted into these relationships, genuinely be conned to trust the fake identities romance fraud scammers create and be led to believe that they have met their perfect partner.
“Scammers deliberately develop deep relationships online with their victims, abusing their trust, when all along their intentions are only ever criminal, to steal money and personal details.
“With so many people keeping in touch and socialising with each other online, it’s vital that we raise awareness of how to spot the signs of romance fraud, to prevent these scammers from manipulating and damaging innocent people’s lives.
“I strongly urge people to be very cautious when meeting people online and if anything seems suspicious end the contact or seek help.”
Daters who strike up online relationships between Christmas and Valentines Day tend to be the most susceptible to romance fraud.
How to help protect people you know are online dating
- Help your friends and family to ensure they have adequate privacy settings on their social media accounts to ensure strangers don’t have access to their personal information.
- Stay in regular contact with your friends and family who are online dating to help spot any changes in behaviour or things that don’t seem right.
- Make friends and family aware of the signs of romance fraud so that they are conscious of the tactics criminals use to carry out these scams and reiterate that you should never transfer money to someone that you have never met in person.
- Encourage people to report to Action Fraud and the police if they have become a victim of romance fraud and not to be embarrassed about doing so.
Nationally, between November 2020 and October 2021, 8,863 cases of romance fraud were reported to NFIB, up from 6,968 reports in the 2020 calendar year.
However, police said this was not likely to be an accurate picture, as romance fraud was a crime victims were less likely to report.
Of the reports in the last 12 months, 20 per cent of victims were aged 50 to 59, 18 per cent were aged 40 to 49 and 17 per cent of victims were aged 30 to 39.
Half of romance fraud victims were women, just over a third (39 per cent) were men and some victims (11 per cent) did not report their gender.
Anyone who is speaking to people they do not know or have not known for a long period of time should follow the Take Five To Stop Fraud advice, police said.
Take Five To Stop Fraud advice
- Stop: Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.
- Challenge: Could it be fake? It’s okay to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.
- Protect: If you think you’ve been a victim of fraud, contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud online at actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040.