Romance Fraud Part I: know who you’re talking to
5 February 2020
It’ll come as no shock that scammers and fake profiles are still a major problem for online dating sites. In 2018, romance scam victims lost a staggering £50,000,000 – with each victim losing an average of £11,000. The average age of victims was around 50, with 63% being female. Though these numbers are already high, Action Fraud believe this form of fraud is underreported, as many victims may feel embarrassed or ashamed of being scammed, which could discourage them from coming forward.
“As cases of romance fraud increase each year, so too does the cost to victims, both emotionally and financially. The emotional damage of falling victim to romance fraud can often be far more difficult to come to terms with."
– Commander Karen Baxter, Head of the City of London Police’s Economic Crime Department, as a part of Action Fraud's press release on 11 February 2019.
Fraudsters comb through online dating sites to see who bites, and unfortunately it is usually someone over the age of 45 or a more vulnerable person. Many of these victims are sought out directly by the fraudsters, as they may be more trusting or hopeful after a previous relationship – and may have more money to be convinced of parting with. These victims are socially engineered to trust the person on the other end of the phone, which in some cases happens over a course of weeks, months or even years.
While many victims do unfortunately send money directly to these fraudsters, we also see many not realising that the information they are sharing with a stranger online is also giving them hints towards online banking security questions, such as first pet’s name, mother’s maiden name, etc. The fraudsters are skilled at masking their intended deceit in a seemingly normal conversation.
If any of your relatives, however young, have decided to take the plunge into online dating, it may be worth talking to them about how to stay safe and avoid scammers. We caught up with The Dating Guru, James Preece, who is a celebrated Celebrity Dating Coach & Relationship Expert, Keynote Speaker and Author, to get some of his top online dating tips:
James’ top tips:
1) Use a well-known, paid for site. Free sites don't have much of a budget to filter out fake profiles and it's very easy for scammers to create new ones if they do get caught. With a paid for site, they will have teams in place to monitor, review and remove profiles that get reported. So chances are that they will be discovered before you even come into contact. If you are ever in doubt about someone, message the admin team and they will be able to carry out checks to verify their identity.
2) Look for the warning signs. Scammers often talk about being honest and "god fearing" in order to build trust. They will use stolen photos (of either models or military professionals) so you are keen to respond. Never give them your personal number or email as you'll lose the added security when using the dating site.
3) Always speak on the phone (or video chat) before things get serious. If they are pretending to be someone else or are from a different country they will be reluctant to do. A person with good intentions will be keen to speak rather than making excuses.
4) Use your common sense. If someone seems too good to be true then chances are, they are. If they are moving too quickly or making proclamations of love early on then ask yourself why. Don't be fooled just because you are flattered they might be interested. If you want to check, ask a friend to review the messages and profile as they will be better placed to spot any issues.
5) Never ever send money. The scammer's ultimate goal is to con money out of people. They often start off asking for small amounts and then build up once they have your trust. There is no good reason to give them anything so if they won't take no for an answer simply report and block them.
Contact your bank straight away if you think you may have fallen victim to a romance scam and please report this to the police via the national call centre entitled Action Fraud at 0300 123 2040 or online.
For more on James, visit his website at www.jamespreece.com or his social media channels. Twitter: @jamespreeceguru Instagram: @jamespreececoach.
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