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Romance Fraud: Stay Safe this Valentine's

This Valentine’s Day, keep yourself & your money safe when dating online.

It is a sad reality that while many people join online dating platforms to genuinely find love and a partner, there are sadly always criminals looking to take advantage in the cruellest way.

Criminals committing romance fraud often try to convince their victims to send them money by building a fake connection to exploit, making innocent people feel guilty if they won’t give them what they want, or ‘love-bombing’ them and then making demands for cash.

Most people are genuinely looking for love, romance and friendship online - other have ulterior motives

Where romance fraudsters will try to persuade their victims, other criminals will use fear and threats to force them to send large sums of money.

Blackmail using intimate images of victims is often referred to a ‘sextortion’. This may be to extort money or to make the victim to do something against their will.

Photos or recordings may be stolen or made without the victim realising, or they will be tricked into sending intimate images to criminals.

Many use a fake identity to befriend you online and then threaten to send those images to family and friends.

It’s crucial that those affected by these callous crimes report it to the police so they can investigate. The most important thing is that you speak up, so we can learn more about the criminals we want to crack down on and make sure this doesn’t happen again.

Suspects invest significant amounts of time into socially engineering their victims – knowing that as they gain the victim’s trust, their chances of extracting considerable funds from them simultaneously increase.

Fraudsters do not initially ask the victims for money; instead they spend time communicating with them online and building trust. By the time they ask for large sums of money, the reasons for requiring financial assistance have greater plausibility. This is known as the ‘grooming period’.

Typically, the longer the period between the date of first contact and the date of the first financial transfer, the higher the amount of money handed over.

Data implies that a high proportion of victims are lonely, widowed or recently bereaved, have suffered from a recent break up and/or suffering from depression.

The financial losses are high and victims can often be in denial, making self-reporting low and repeat victimisation likely.

Romance fraud is one of the fastest growing crime types affecting the vulnerable, so much so that in Sussex all victims of romance fraud are treated as vulnerable by crime type.

Reports made to Action Fraud reveal that £50,766,602 was lost to romance fraud in 2018 – an average of £11,145 per victim and a 27% increase on the previous year.

How to keep yourself and loved ones safe from Romance fraud scammers

Don’t rush into an online relationship – get to know the person, not the profile: ask plenty of questions.

Analyse their profile confirm the person's identity. Check the person is genuine by putting their name, profile pictures or any repeatedly-used phrases and the term ‘dating scam’ into your search engine.

Talk to your friends and family - be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them.

Evade scams - never send money or share your bank details with someone you’ve only met online, no matter what reason they give or how long you've been speaking to them.

Stay on the dating site messenger service - don't use email, phone, social media or other messaging apps until you’re confident the person is who they say they are.

Signs to spot

  • Be wary of giving out personal information on a website or chatroom. Fraudsters will quickly contact you, often showing you glamorous photos of themselves and gaining your trust.

  • A fraudster will make conversation more personal to get information out of you, but won’t tell you much about themselves that you can check or verify.

  • Romance fraudsters often claim to have high ranking roles that keep them away from home for a long time. This could be a ploy to deter your suspicions around not meeting in person.

  • Fraudsters will usually attempt to steer you away from chatting on a legitimate dating site that can be monitored. Stay on the platform that you started using initially, rather than switching to email, text or phone.

  • A fraudster may tell stories to target your emotions and get you to give them money. They may claim they have an ill relative or are stranded in a country they don’t want to be in. They may not ask you directly for money, hoping instead that you’ll offer it out of the goodness of your heart. Do not do this.

  • Sometimes the fraudsters will send the victim valuable items such as laptops, computers and mobile phones, asking them to resend them elsewhere. They will invent a reason as to why they need the goods sent, but this may just be a way for them to cover up their criminal activity.  Alternatively they may ask a victim to buy the goods themselves and send them elsewhere.

  • Often, they will ask victims to accept money into their bank account and then transfer it to someone else using bank accounts, MoneyGram, Western Union, iTunes vouchers or other gift cards. These scenarios are very likely to be forms of money laundering and you could be committing a criminal offence.

What to do if you suspect Romance fraud is taking place.

Romance fraud is a serious crime. If you suspect it, you must report it.

If you, or someone you know is vulnerable to Romance fraud please report it online or call 101.

Alternatively, you can report suspicions of Romance fraud anonymously to Scamalytics. Using an online form you can enter images, names and details of potential Romance fraudsters. This not only keeps yourself and your loved ones safe from Romance fraud, but could prevent others from falling victim too.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of Romance fraud you can find further advice from Victim Support.

Action Fraud

If you’ve been the victim of a scam, fraud or online crime (cybercrime) you can report it to Action Fraud:

  • online

  • on 0300 123 2040 (Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm).

Action Fraud is the national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime. It collects reports about fraud on behalf of the police in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For fraud in Scotland please report it directly to Police Scotland.

Original articles from Essex Police and Sussex Police.

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