Online dating fraud has sky rocketed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with the number of vulnerable and isolated people being targeted up by forty per cent.
Andrew, whose name has been changed to protect his anonymity, was one of them – and like many victims, he may never see his money again.
The elderly man was exchanging messages with a potential love interest on dating website ‘Older Dating Online’ in November 2019.
After weeks of emails and telephone calls, plans were made to meet for the first time.
As the woman was supposedly based in Russia, she asked for £650 to obtain a passport.
This was quickly followed by more requests – £3,000 to prove to Russian authorities that she had sufficient cash to visit the UK and funds to cover medical expenses for her father who had Covid-19.
Eventually, Andrew started to question their relationship.
“I became suspicious and contacted my bank to report the scam, but the money couldn’t be recovered,” Andrew said.
“I haven’t dated at all since the scam. I am not one who exudes confidence in that area and with Covid-19, more traditional ways have not been possible.”
Andrew, like many people affected by this type of fraud, blamed himself for falling into the trap.
“I didn’t report what happened on the website. I guessed it was my fault for being taken in, not their fault for being in existence.”
In many cases of dating fraud, scammers are likely to be gangs of organised criminals looking to part people from their hard-earned cash.
A report into Action Fraud figures by consumer group Which? found dating scams rose by 40 per cent in the year to April 2021, with over 7,500 reported cases.
Reported losses reached £73.9million during this period but the true figure is likely to be much higher as often, victims are too embarrassed or anxious to tell authorities.
In many online dating scams, fraudsters claim that they need the money to travel to the UK to build a life together.
David, 65, whose name has been changed, was cheated out of nearly £4,000 after meeting someone on Twitter.
The scammer posed as a young woman, but David later discovered he was messaging a man in Nigeria.
David thought the money he sent was to pay for a flight ticket and a visa for her to come to the UK to live, marry him and settle down as a family.
He said: “After I found out the truth, I was heartbroken and very upset.
“My emotions were all over the place finding it difficult to accept that I had been taken in.
“This is such a cruel thing to do to an elderly pensioner who wanted love but instead got fleeced by this corrupt man who has no shame in what he did to me and no doubt has done to many others.”
Twitter has since permanently suspended the scammer’s profile.
Which? is now calling for greater protections for victims of romance fraud.
The consumer group said people should always be on high alert for fraudsters using stolen photos – even in video calls.
In one case reported to Which?, the victim had a video call with someone she later discovered was using stolen video footage.
She said: “How they did it I have no idea because I discovered those pictures were of a plastic surgeon in the USA. It worries me that some women will fall for it.”
To find out whether a photo is fake, consumers can use TinEye or Google Image Search to do a reverse image search.
At what point is it fair for banks to draw a line on refunds? Let us know in the comments below
This tracks where else on the internet this photo exists to see if it could be a stock or stolen image.
The contingent reimbursement model code, in place since May 2019 and signed by the majority of banks, makes clear that victims of bank transfer scams should be reimbursed for their losses when they are not at fault.
But only transfers between UK accounts can benefit from the limited protection offered by it.
That means victims like Andrew are not covered.
Which? is concerned that even when it does apply, banks are being inconsistent with the code.
While some firms reimburse the majority of APP fraud victims, others only reimburse around one in 10 – meaning that many victims face a lottery when it comes to getting their money back.
Customers in need of support when trying to recoup their losses often face a grilling over their actions from banks, compounding the devastating emotional impact of their ordeal.
Adam French, Which? consumer rights expert, said: “Where appropriate, banks and payment providers should be following the code they signed up to and reimbursing victims of scams that use sophisticated psychological tactics to trick victims into handing over their cash.
“Anyone who is struggling to get their money back from their bank should report this to the Financial Ombudsman Service to review their case.”
When approached for comment, Twitter said: “It is against our rules to use scam tactics on Twitter to obtain money or private financial information.
“Where we identify violations of our rules, we take robust enforcement action. We’re constantly adapting to bad actors’ evolving methods, and we will continue to iterate and improve upon our policies as the industry evolves.”
An OlderDatingOnline statement said: “We take the safety of our members very seriously.
“When a member attempts to register to the service, they undergo various assessments performed by a third party, fraud and scammer detection service, before they can successfully register.
“When a member submits public content to their profile including imagery, this is checked by our moderation team. Our customer service team performs a number of manual profile checks to remove disingenuous people.”
What to do if you’ve been targeted by a romance scammer
If a fraudster has stolen your money, report this to Action Fraud online, or by calling 0300 123 2040 Monday to Friday 8am – 8pm. You should also tell your bank.
Being a victim of fraud can take a huge toll on your mental health so make sure you talk to someone to get the support you need.
Charity Victim Support offers a free and confidential helpline available on 0808 16 89 111 (lines open 24/7). Mind also has a support line, Mind Infoline, available on 0300 123 3393 (lines open 9am – 6pm, Monday – Friday).
You should also report fraudsters to the platform they used to contact you. The fraudster will not know that the report came from you and this could stop them in their tracks.
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