This stark warning comes from Dorset Police. The force is working with partner agencies and other forces around the country to tackle romance fraud, which has seen a rise of 26% nationally in a year.
Romance fraud, or dating fraud, occurs when you think you’ve met the perfect person online, but they are using a fake profile to form a relationship with you. They gain your trust over a number of weeks or months and have you believe you are in a loving and caring relationship. Unfortunately, all they want is to get their hands on your cash and personal information or access your bank account to launder money.
Between August 2019 and August 2020 Action Fraud received 70 reports for Dorset from victims of romance fraud. Losses during this time were reported by victims to be £384,400, averaging just under £5,500 per victim.
During June, July and August, Action Fraud received more than 600 reports nationally per month of romance fraud. This indicated that people may have met, and begun talking to, romance fraudsters during the national lockdown caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.
“This type of fraud is devastating for the victim both financially and emotionally,” explains Acting Detective Sergeant, Will Burnett. “Scammers work out who is lonely and very slowly start to creep into their lives, promising love and companionship. This is a sophisticated crime and it’s one where almost anyone can become a victim. Whilst making the victim feel safe and secure, they are constantly looking for ways to obtain their money. Victims are often left penniless and terribly distraught and some scams can last for months and years. It is a very cruel scam.”
ADS Burnett adds, “There are plenty of ways to protect yourself or friends or family members you may be concerned about. Firstly it’s important to remember that not everyone is who they say they are. Be cautious how much information you share about yourself online and no matter how long you’ve been in contact with someone online and how much you trust them, don’t send them any money or give them access to your bank account. If you are on a dating site, stay on the site messaging system. Too often the criminal will want to switch to another platform that is less regulated soon after first establishing contact. If someone asks for financial help, you should report them. Most online platforms have a reporting tool.”
Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill said, “I’ve come across desperately sad cases in which victims have been conned out of their life savings by fraudsters who had convinced them they were their soulmates.
“Romance fraud is one of the most insidious crimes, in which vulnerable people – often lonely, recently bereaved, or suffering from depression – are groomed by criminals who have gotten into their heads and won their trust.
“Sadly, the isolation caused by the ongoing pandemic has created the perfect conditions for these fraudsters, with many more people using the internet to meet and talk. Please be aware of the techniques used by romance fraudsters. And if you are a victim of this type of fraud, remember it isn’t anything to be ashamed of – do report it so you can go on to get the help you need.”
During October the City of London Police, the national lead force for fraud, will be co-ordinating enforcement activity across the UK and overseas to target and ultimately arrest criminals suspected of committing romance fraud.
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.
As part of the campaign the Match Group, who own OK Cupid, Plenty of Fish, Tinder and Match.com, are running romance fraud protection adverts throughout October on these platforms, to inform their users how to spot the signs of a romance fraud and how to protect themselves online.
|Spot the signs||Protect yourself|
|You’ve struck up a relationship with someone online and they declare their love for you quite quickly. They may even talk of marriage or other relationship milestones such as buying a house together. Many romance fraudsters say they are based abroad so will claim a big step in your relationship will be them returning to the UK to be with you. They will claim to be overseas because they work in the military or medical profession, or they’re carrying out important charity work. This helps them paint a picture of themselves as being heroic, trustworthy and reliable, and also gives them an excuse for the use of international dialling codes or poor internet connection.||Avoid giving away too many personal details when speaking online to someone you’ve never met in person, as it can lead to your identity being stolen. This includes revealing your full name, date of birth and home address – even if you’re doing it for what seems to be harmless reasons, such as your partner wants to send you flowers or a gift.|
|They constantly make up excuses why they can’t video chat or meet in person and they try and move your conversation off the platform that you met on.||Stay on the site’s messaging service until you meet in person. Criminals want to quickly switch to other platforms that are less regulated and have better encryption, so there’s no evidence of them asking you for money. Whatever reason you’re given to move away from the site where you met, if the other person is genuine, they will accept your decision to stay on the platform until you see each other in person.|
|When they ask for your financial help, it will be for a time critical emergency. The reason will be something emotive, which pulls at your heartstrings. They’ll open up to you about a problem, or something that is worrying them to appear vulnerable and make you feel sorry for them. They may get defensive if you decline to help or make you feel guilty and responsible for the urgent emergency they claim you could have averted.||Most online platforms have a reporting tool which you can use if you suspect someone online is using pictures that don’t belong to them, you are suspicious of their behaviour, or they have asked you for money. Reporting their user profile means it can be blocked, which helps protect others.|
|They tell you to keep your relationship private and insist that you don’t discuss anything you talk about with your friends and family. This also includes the crisis they find themselves in that requires money. They will convince you this is part of the normal privacy that forms a healthy relationship.|| |
No matter how long you’ve been speaking to someone online and how much you trust them, if you haven’t met them in person do not:
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