Swipe left to romance fraud: Family members of online daters urged to help protect their relatives
Main article content
Officers from Northamptonshire Police are supporting a national campaign to urge families to protect their relatives from becoming a victim of romance fraud after county residents lost more than £700,000 through dating scams last year.
Daters who strike up online relationships between Christmas and Valentine’s Day tend to be the most susceptible to romance fraud, however a total of 117 reports were recorded in the county throughout 2021.
Figures released by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) also showed that 56 per cent of victims of this type of fraud in Northamptonshire were female compared to 36 per cent males.
While those aged 60-69 recorded the highest number of romance frauds with the police receiving 24 reports, followed closely by the 50-59 age group with 23, 30-39 years (19), 40-49 years (18) and 20 to 29-year-olds (17).
Fraud Protect Officer PC Neil MacKenzie of the Force’s Economic Crime Unit said: “Loneliness is a key element which fuels the need for an online relationship, which allows fraudsters the opportunity to manipulate their victims.
“Typically, a fraudster will spend weeks or even months grooming their victim with empathy and affection and fabricated stories of their lives, creating a believable background and importantly building trust!
“Initially there’s no suggestion or desire to ask the victim for money so they may believe the love interest is genuine. However, once the emotional relationship has been formed, the fraudster will use a variety of emotive reasons to ask victims for money.
“Once they have received money, the fraudsters will keep coming back with more reasons to send more or will ask the victim to use their bank account to transfer money for them – this is money laundering.
“The financial loss alone is difficult to overcome with some victims losing their life-savings however it’s the emotional impact on victims which can be devastating as they end up loving the person who scammed them.
“We want to do all we can to raise awareness of this heartless crime to prevent others from falling for it, which is why we are calling on family members who think their relatives may be dating online to help spread the message.
“We are asking families to speak to their relatives to ensure they are aware of the warning signs to look out for to help them avoid falling victim to fraud, especially if their loved one is not particularly tech savvy.”
Criminals often use a range of stories to get victims to transfer them money without it raising suspicion. The stories are often believable, to a certain extent, and something that the victim would find hard to say no to, especially because of their emotional attachment.
Examples of stories include funding travel to visit the victim, money to pay for emergency medical expenses, lucrative investment opportunities and pretending to be military personnel or working overseas.
How to help protect people you know are online dating:
• Help your friends and family to ensure they have adequate privacy settings on their social media accounts to ensure strangers don’t have access to their personal information • Stay in regular contact with your friends and family who are online dating to help spot any changes in behaviour or things that don’t seem right • Make friends and family aware of the signs of romance fraud so they are conscious of the tactics’ criminals use to carry out these scams and reiterate that you should never transfer money to someone that you have never met in person • Encourage people to report to Action Fraud and the police if they have become a victim of romance fraud and not to be embarrassed about doing so
PC MacKenzie added: “Romance fraud is one of the most difficult crimes for us to investigate as people are often in denial that they have been a victim, and rarely report it themselves which is why they need your help, please don’t ignore the signs!”
Tell-tale signs an online date may be a fraudster:
• They want to communicate through instant messaging and texts, rather than through the dating website or chat room as other platforms are encrypted and difficult to trace • They ask lots of questions about their love interest, but don’t reveal much about themselves • They don’t answer basic questions about where they live and work • Their profile picture is too perfect – for example they look like an actor or Miss World titleholder, they cannot send a live image with thumbs up, or waving • They CANNOT talk to the person, video calls are silent, because it’s a loop stolen from a genuine site • They talk about their financial difficulties to sow a seed before asking for money
If you think you have been a victim of fraud you should report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre by calling 0300 123 20 40 or online by visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk.
It’s also important to report all fraud-related incidents to Action Fraud to help build a national picture and help prevent others falling victim to scams.