Friends and relatives of online daters are being urged to help protect their loved ones from romance frauds, with nearly £92 million having been reported lost in total in the last year alone.
People who strike up online relationships between Christmas and Valentine’s Day may be at particular risk of romance fraud, with a spike of 901 reports recorded by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) in March 2021.
Of the reports received in the past year, 20% of victims were aged 50 to 59, 18% were between 40 and 49, and 17% were 30 to 39.
Criminals may claim they need cash to travel to visit the victim, pay for emergency medical expenses, or even for lucrative investment opportunities. Or they may pretend to be military personnel or working overseas.
Temporary Detective Chief Superintendent Matt Bradford, from the City of London Police, said: “Typically, romance fraudsters will spend weeks gaining their victims’ trust, feeding them fabricated stories about who they are and their lives – and initially make no suggestion of any desire to ask for any money, so the victim may believe their new love interest is genuine.
“But weeks, or sometimes months later, these criminals will ask for money for a variety of emotive reasons and, as the emotional relationship has already been formed, victims often transfer money without a second thought.
“We’re calling on family members who think their relatives may be dating online to help make them aware of the warning signs that they could be falling victim to fraud, particularly if the person dating online is not particularly tech-savvy.”
People can help friends and family members by ensuring they have adequate privacy settings on their social media accounts, staying in regular contact, and being aware of the signs of romance fraud.
They can remind loved ones never to transfer money to someone they have not met in person, and encourage them to report suspect behaviour to Action Fraud and the police.
In one case highlighted by the police, a woman’s father lost £1,000 to a fraudster who gained his trust.
The manr, who is in his 60s and suffers from Parkinson’s, was initially messaged on social media by someone claiming to be a woman who lived in Texas.
The fraudster behind the persona had found out specific information about him, including where he had grown up abroad and the industry he had worked in, and used these as a way to gain his trust and build a relationship.
The scam involved a fake story about coming to the UK and needing money.
The victim’s cash was eventually refunded by his bank.
His daughter said: “This whole experience has been incredibly stressful, for me as well as for my father, and it was really hard to approach the subject with him.
“After he transferred the money, I spoke to him about what happened and I sent him news articles about romance fraud to help him understand this is a common type of scam.”
Hannah Shimko, from the Online Dating Association, said: “While most users are genuine, there are always those who are looking to take advantage of the vulnerable looking for love.
“It is essential users educate themselves on how to be a smart online dater, and to be aware of the actions fraudsters will use to manipulate them.”