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Scam at first sight: Criminals using dating websites to offer bogus investments

·3-min read

More than £15 million has been lost to criminals offering bogus investment opportunities on dating platforms this year, according to Action Fraud.

The average loss per victim is £15,936, with a total of £15,665,332 lost so far this year, the UK’s reporting centre for fraud and cyber crime said.

Nearly a quarter (23%) of victims were in their 30s, and three-fifths (60%) were aged 30 to 59.

While the vast majority of investments offered are in cryptocurrency, victims have also handed over money believing they are investing in other commodities, including stocks and shares, gold and raw materials, Action Fraud said.

Pauline Smith, head of Action Fraud, said: “We’ve all spent more time than ever before online over the past year and criminals have seen this as an opportunity to target unsuspecting victims – particularly those using dating platforms.

“It’s important that, if you’re contacted by someone on a dating platform about an investment opportunity, you follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign by taking a moment to stop and think – it could protect you and your money.

“If you are suspicious of someone’s behaviour on a dating platform, most platforms have a reporting tool which you can use to report their profile – which helps protect others.”

Victims have reported being approached on dating platforms by criminals, who at first will engage in typical conversation in order to build a trusting relationship.

Once a level of trust has been established, the fraudster will change the topic of conversation to an investment opportunity that they claim can help make the victim money.

The victim is then persuaded to continue the conversation on a secondary messaging platform, which often cannot provide the same level of safety as dating platforms.

In some cases, victims have been deceived into transferring funds on multiple occasions, having been told their initial investment was successful. In other cases, victims have been told they cannot access their investment without paying various “charges” such as transaction fees, security deposits and currency conversion costs, Action Fraud said.

The fraudster will typically cut all contact when the victim refuses to transfer more funds, or says they have run out of money.

– Here are Action Fraud’s tips to protect against investment scams:

1. No matter how long you have been speaking to someone online, if you have not met them in person, do not send them any money.

2. Do not be rushed into making an investment. Be wary if you are being pressured to invest quickly, or promised returns that sound too good to be true. Take time to do your research.

3. Research the person you are talking to, as their photos may not be genuine. Performing a reverse image search can find photos that have been taken from somewhere, or someone, else.

4. Be suspicious if you are contacted out of the blue about an investment opportunity. Always seek advice from friends or family and consider getting independent professional advice before making a significant financial decision.

5. Stay on the website’s messaging service until you meet in person. Criminals want to quickly switch to other platforms that are less well-regulated and have stronger encryption, so there is no evidence of your conversation.

6. You can check if an investment opportunity you have been offered could potentially be a scam by visiting the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) ScamSmart website.

7. Many online platforms have a reporting tool which you can use if you suspect someone online is using pictures that do not 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.

8. Follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign – take a moment to think before parting with any money or information; reject or ignore suspect requests; and contact your bank immediately as well as Action Fraud if you think you have fallen victim to a fraud.

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