An advertising campaign in October aims to raise awareness of romance fraud and provide protection advice to the public.
Romance fraud, or dating fraud, occurs when your partner online is using a fake profile to form a relationship with you. They gain your trust over weeks or months and have you believe you are in a relationship, when the criminal’s end goal is only to get your money or personal information.
Between August 2019 and August 2020, the police reporting line Action Fraud received over 400 reports a month from victims of romance fraud in the UK. Losses reported by victims during this time totalled £66,335,239, equating to an average loss per victim of just over £10,000.
During June, July and August 2020, Action Fraud received more than 600 reports per month of romance fraud, indicating people may have met, and begun talking to, romance fraudsters during the national lockdown caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
The top five platforms where victims reported first interacting with the criminal committing romance fraud were Facebook, Plenty of Fish, Instagram, Tinder and Match.com. The Match Group, who own OK Cupid, Plenty of Fish, Tinder and Match.com, is running romance fraud protection adverts on its platforms, to inform their users how to spot the signs of a romance fraud and how to protect themselves online.
Cleveland Police‘s Economic Crime Inspector Jim Forster said: “Since 1st October 2019 to now, Cleveland Police has received five reports of online dating scams/ fraud. Three of the victims were elderly and two were aged in their 30s. Each of the victims were scammed out of money, ranging from £50 to over £100k.
“Romance fraud is a devastating crime that can leave victims feeling heartbroken for a person they believed they had grown close to and embarrassed to tell people about what happened. Financially, some people have also been left with a huge loss. As a force we fully support this campaign so that as many people as possible become aware of how easy it is to be targeted and how sophisticated this level of crime can be.
“Some people aren’t always as they seem and there will be individuals out there who will play on people’s emotions and vulnerabilities and will target them for money. It is vital that the public are aware of the warning signs (detailed below) to help prevent more people from becoming a potential victim.”
Avoid giving away too many personal details when dating online. Revealing your full name, date of birth and home address may lead to your identity being stolen.
• Never send or receive money or give away your bank details to someone you’ve only met online, no matter how much you trust them or believe their story.
• Pick a reputable dating website and use the site’s messaging service. Fraudsters want to quickly switch to social media or texting so there’s no evidence of them asking you for money.
Spot the signs
You’ve struck up a relationship with someone online; they’re asking a lot of personal questions about you, but they’re not interested in telling you much about themselves.
• They invent a reason to ask for your help, using the emotional attachment you’ve built with them. Your relationship with them may often depend on you sending money.
• Their pictures are too perfect – they may have been stolen from an actor or model. Reverse image search can find photos that have been taken from somewhere else.
Gus Tomlinson, General Manager of Identity Fraud, Europe at the data intelligence company GBG, said: “As a result of lockdown restrictions and social distancing, establishing trust digitally has never been more important. Romance scams are yet another type of fraud which is on the rise.
As well as more awareness of the key tricks fraudsters use, it is important that online dating platforms also look at how the latest technology can help reduce the number of fake profiles. Whilst consumers are becoming increasingly familiar with more secure identity verification methods when it comes to online banking or shopping, often approval for online dating platforms is solely based on linking a social media account.
This could be made more trustworthy to not only reduce these scams – but, most importantly, the emotional and financial pain currently caused to over 600 people a month.”
And Maxence Bernard, Chief R&D Officer at content moderation software firm Besedo said: “AI-enabled content moderation processes are essential to catch and remove these fraudulent profiles before they target vulnerable end-users. The reason for this is fraudsters are often part of a bigger scam organisation, meaning they share scripts and wording that have delivered successful results with their target group in the past. While it’s bad news that optimised messaging is used to generate online scams, it’s good news for those trying to spot the fraudulent dating profiles as they can search for known patterns, creating a list of all the words, language and expressions regularly used by romance scammers to automate a good part of the profile moderation process.”