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Let’s talk about romance fraud… in the right way, says Anna Rowe of LoveSaid

14 February 2024

It is one of the fastest growing frauds and a crime that collectively saw victims lose more than £92 million in the last financial year, according to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. However, when romance fraud is so prevalent, why is it still so vastly under-reported and under-investigated? This Valentine’s Day, Anna Rowe, co-founder of fraud centre and think tank LoveSaid, provides her insight on this increasing threat and what more we could all do to encourage individuals to bravely come forward…

Romance fraud victims have historically faced disdain, ridicule, and been regarded by many as ‘naïve’ and ‘easily fooled’. Comments directed at those who share their experiences online often take on an accusatory tone – unleashing harsh criticism on individuals who have been deeply hurt and found themselves broken in ways they never knew they could be.

So, what is it about this specific fraud that makes online trolls feel they have ‘free rein’ when it comes to blaming and embarrassing victims? Let’s break it down…

Victims of romance fraud have many qualities. However, being stupid, naïve or gullible are not any of these. In fact, the commonalities they do possess are the fact they are kind, empathetic, trustworthy, respectful, generous with their heart and feelings, and ultimately want to help others. Ironically, all of these can be considered incredible qualities that many people would welcome in their lives, rather than exploit.

Additionally, victims can have vulnerabilities – many of which can be linked to having had bad experiences in the past, having a lack of self-worth, or because of culture, education, upbringing, and even thinking, ‘this could never happen to me’. Situational vulnerabilities can also play their part, such as being in a new place or country with no support network around them.

So, when such individuals express their kind and good-natured qualities to people they have come to trust and form a relationship with, why are these positive attributes used against them by members of the public to attack, shame and blame when they discover they are the victim of a romance fraud? Plus, don't they feel humiliated enough already?

Those who are willing to judge another without educating themselves first or believing what they read at face value without conducting any further research or due diligence, are misunderstanding the severity and prevalence of romance fraud. This is a crime that leads to a victim losing, on average, £11,500, not to mention the emotional and psychological damage that simply can’t be quantified.

How we change attitudes towards romance fraud victims

One of the main reasons people blame victims is due to a lack of understanding, particularly in the context of fraudulent activities. At LoveSaid, our interactions with individuals who initially held this viewpoint have revealed that once we delved into the intricacies of the fraud, the tactics employed and the technology involved, and pointed them towards relevant academic research on the subject – as well as provided the personal backgrounds and experiences of the victims we have assisted – they were left speechless. This silence indicates their lack of comprehension regarding romance fraud.

To stress, it is not just a matter of someone ‘naïvely’ giving money to a stranger. There is so much more to this crime and both society and individuals can acquire knowledge about this issue, just as the victims have.

The media also has a critical part to play in the language their audiences respond to. For example, a story covering a person who ‘gave their life savings to someone they had never met following a whirlwind romance’, is likely to encourage negative reactions and ‘serves them right’ type replies. However, would they respond in a similar way if the same story was headlined:

‘Criminals targeted and exploited victim in a coercive, emotional fraud.’

Quite different, isn’t it? Not only do we have a part to play in the language we use, but the media can vastly help in this instance too. Stories that place the blame solely with the criminals can be the difference between a victim being seen as courageous for coming forward or being further humiliated by keyboard warriors.

Whether burglary or romance fraud, people don’t fall for crime, they are the victim. We should be supporting them, not ridiculing them.

When this type of fraud continues to escalate faster than any other, a small change to the language we use can go a long way towards encouraging a victim to come forward and, in turn, improve current reporting levels which are critically low.

The issue here is not just that we need law enforcement to investigate romance fraud more, but it is also with ignorant people who display aggressive and societally created behaviour towards victims. The impact of which can cause individuals to feel silenced and isolated – further empowering criminals to continue in their fraudulent quests.

Now is the time to educate as many people as we can – both victims and wider society about the dangers of romance fraud and what devastating effects it can have on people financially and emotionally. That way, the stigma of shame will hopefully one day disappear, and, in turn, pave the way for greater awareness and an increase in reporting to the point where criminals finally start taking as damaging a hit as they’ve previously dealt out.

Rather than jump straight into typing a comment that embarrasses and ridicules a victim of romance fraud, let's instead reframe our thinking and change the language we use. These individuals who genuinely believed they were in a relationship with someone are in fact courageous and brave to come forward and expose the criminals for what they are.

When we dig a little deeper into a victim’s story, we are armed with more knowledge and are ultimately in a stronger position to support them, and better understand that it is simply not their fault. Remember, that one small change can make a huge difference.

Find out about the work of LoveSaid and how it is helping victims of romance fraud, here.

Romance fraud is also one of the interactive video episodes of Apollo – Cifas’ immersive and experiential digital learning platform. Discover more and request a demo today.

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Posted by: Anna Rowe

Founder of Catch The Catfish and subject matter expert having been a victim of catfishing for 14 months by a UK lawyer who was leading a double life with a fake identity. Anna has provided support and education for over five years for victims of online, initiated, emotional fraud. Author photo credit: Benjamin Wetherall Photography.

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Posted by: Anna Rowe

Founder of Catch The Catfish and subject matter expert having been a victim of catfishing for 14 months by a UK lawyer who was leading a double life with a fake identity. Anna has provided support and education for over five years for victims of online, initiated, emotional fraud. Author photo credit: Benjamin Wetherall Photography.

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