#romancescams | African internet scammers target lonely locked-down Brits as romance fraud hits 7,000 cases in 2020

African internet scammers target lonely locked-down Brits as romance fraud hits record 7,000 cases in 2020 and detectives call on ministers to crack down on Facebook

  • Graeme Biggar, head of National Crime Agency’s National Economic Crime Centre, said agency is combating surge in fraud during Covid-19 pandemic
  • He warned social media companies like Facebook would ‘need to be regulated’ if they did not co-operate in tackling fraud on their platforms 
  • Victims have been defrauded of hundreds of thousands of pounds in some cases
  • NCA is seeing spike of cases from West African countries including Nigeria; last month, £115,000 was recovered from fraudsters in Ghana

The National Crime Agency has warned romance fraud is expected to hit a record 7,000 cases this year and social media companies such as Facebook must do more to tackle the issue, it has been revealed. 

Graeme Biggar, head of the National Crime Agency’s National Economic Crime Centre, told how the agency is combating a surge in fraud during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Crime-fighters are tracking a record number of romance fraud crooks targeting lonely people forced to stay in their homes with cases up by almost 1,000 this year. 

Victims have been defrauded of hundreds of thousands of pounds in some cases with the coronavirus pandemic offering romance fraud criminals the perfect opportunity to target people forced to stay at home. 

The average victim of romance fraud loses just over £10,000. 

Graeme Biggar (pictured), head of the National Crime Agency’s National Economic Crime Centre, has warned romance fraud is expected to hit a record 7,000 cases this year and social media companies such as Facebook must do more to tackle the issue

The NCA's international team is actively working on at least 30 investigations in Ghana, where many of the fraudsters are based. The agency is seeing a persistent spike of cases from West African countries including Nigeria. Last month, the NCA announced £115,000 had been recovered from fraudsters in Ghana

The NCA’s international team is actively working on at least 30 investigations in Ghana, where many of the fraudsters are based. The agency is seeing a persistent spike of cases from West African countries including Nigeria. Last month, the NCA announced £115,000 had been recovered from fraudsters in Ghana

Mr Biggar revealed new data analytic tools have meant the NCA is able to better track suspects and has identified dozens of victims who were not aware they were victims of fraud. 

Under the umbrella of the agency’s nascent National Data Exploitation Capability software, the NCA is now able to analyse large batches of data from banks, police and other institutions with machine learning. 

Officers created ’16 packages of data’ on romance fraud networks including details of victims to pass on to police forces. 

City of London police revealed it had notified 38 victims who were unaware they were being scammed. 

Mr Biggar also warned that social media companies such as Facebook would ‘need to be regulated’ if they did not co-operate in tackling fraud on their platforms. 

The NCA’s international team is actively working on at least 30 investigations in Ghana, where many of the fraudsters are based. 

The agency is seeing a persistent spike of cases from West African countries including Nigeria. 

Last month, the NCA announced £115,000 had been recovered from fraudsters in Ghana. 

Mr Biggar also warned that social media companies such as Facebook would 'need to be regulated' if they did not co-operate in tackling fraud on their platforms. (File image)

Mr Biggar also warned that social media companies such as Facebook would ‘need to be regulated’ if they did not co-operate in tackling fraud on their platforms. (File image)

‘We had 6,000 cases reported to Action Fraud in 2019, just over £68million stolen,’ said Mr Biggar. 

‘Now we’ve had increases this year on those figures, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we hit 7,000 cases this year. We’re getting 600 cases a month. 

‘Social media needs to be doing more to be countering fraud. They are not good enough at preventing crime happening on their platforms, including romance fraud. 

‘The dating agency trade group make this point that it is a problem on Facebook and across the spectrum. If they can’t stop fraud being hosted on their platforms then they will need to be regulated to do so. 

‘We’ve now got new data analysis – an impressive capability in the NCA that we’ve been building up. We can take big data sets from law enforcement and banks, and can do machine learning to establish patterns. 

‘We’ve done a bunch of that on romance fraud and that has enabled us to identify people who we think are victims who haven’t yet reported it to the police. 

‘It’s obviously enabled us being able to go to a number of people and have quite difficult conversations with people through policing.’ 

Last week, the NCA announced it had arrested three suspects of a gang in East London suspected of laundering cash from scams including romance fraud and the government’s Covid-19 Bounce Back Loans.


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