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Love hurts: Valentine’s fraud warning

February 13th 2018

New statistics released ahead of Valentine’s Day prove that the UK is continuing to lose huge amounts of money to romance fraud – with victims conned out of £41 million in 2017 alone. This is according to figures from The City of London Police, whose remit covers online fraud nationwide, working with Get Safe Online and its partners.

For Get Safe Online's advice on how to avoid becoming another victim of romance fraud, click here.
 
Brits were defrauded out of a staggering £41 million due to romance fraud in 2017(1)

- On average, victims lose a shocking £11,500 – over two fifths of the average annual salary(2)

Almost half (43%) of victims indicated that it had a ‘significant’ impact on their health or financial wellbeing

- A further 18% stated the impact was severe and received medical treatment or were at risk of bankruptcy as a result

Romance fraud is described as when someone creates a fake identity to enter into a relationship with a victim with the intent to steal either funds or personal information.  In 2017, 3557 romance frauds were reported nationally, averaging 10 reports a day.

This staggering amount equates to £11,500 per victim – a startling amount for any individual to lose. To put this into context, £11,500 is more than two-fifths of the average salary.(2)

Those who fall victim to these frauds are almost twice as likely to be women (63% compared with 37% of men) and in their forties (22%) or fifties (25%). Only 13%t of the reported frauds impacted those under 30.

However, evidence suggests these numbers do not accurately represent the true scale of the problem due to the embarrassment felt by some victims of fraud, which can discourage people from coming forward to report their experience. But reporting is crucial in stopping these fraudsters whose impact extends beyond just taking the money.

Almost half (43%) of victims said that the crime had a ‘significant’ impact on their health or financial wellbeing.

A further 18% had to receive medical treatment as a result of being a victim of a romance scam – or had been left at risk of bankruptcy.

The report comes from a new #DateSafe working group, tasked with raising awareness of the risks of romance fraud in the UK. The group includes Get Safe Online, City of London Police, London Metropolitan Police (FALCON), Age UK, Victim Support and the Online Dating Association (ODA).  

The group will also share its five #DateSafe tips across websites and social media platforms to help inform and protect users of dating sites and apps ahead of Valentine’s Day.

#DateSafe tips

  1. Don’t rush into an online relationship – get to know the person, not the profile and ask plenty of questions
  1. Analyse their profile and 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
  1. Talk to your friends and family about your dating choices. Be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them
  1. Evade scammers by never sending money to, or sharing your bank details with, someone you’ve met online, no matter what reason they give or how long you've been speaking to them
  1. Stay on the dating site messenger service until you’re confident the person is who they say they are. If you do decide to meet in person, make sure the first meeting is in a public place and let someone else know where you’re going to be

Tony Neate, CEO of Get Safe Online commented: “Lots of happy relationships are built as a result of meeting someone online. However, as in any form of dating, there are some nasty characters out there who will try and take advantage of someone looking for love. If you’re using online dating tools in your search for ‘the one’, it is important you have your wits about you, so you can spot when something isn’t quite right, before you get in too deep and can no longer see the warning signs. Our five tips will hopefully help you do just that – so you can enjoy online dating without worrying about who’s behind the profile.”

The City of London Police’s Commander Dave Clark, the National Co-ordinator for Economic Crime said: “We see many cases of dating fraud each year, in which the cost is high, both emotionally and financially. Heartless fraudsters cruelly use dating websites, social media and direct emails to exploit those looking for love. Fraud can manifest itself in many different forms and is constantly evolving; it can have a major impact on victims, both financially and psychologically. In the case of dating fraud, the emotional damage is often far more difficult to come to terms with. These callous criminals will target vulnerable victims for their own monetary gain and our latest intelligence tells us that women in their forties are the most likely to be tricked in this way. We are therefore urging people to spot the signs of dating fraud in order to protect themselves and to follow the ‘Date Safe’ advice this Valentine’s Day and in the future.

“If you think you have been a victim of dating fraud, it is very important that you report this to Action Fraud. Sharing this information will help us to track down and identify these cruel criminals who manipulate and take advantage of people who are searching for love.”

Reports to Action Fraud - the national fraud and cybercrime reporting centre - should be made at www.actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040.

Suzanne Grimmer, Detective Inspector at the Metropolitan Police (FALCON) said: “These criminals have no conscience. They prey on the kindness, good nature and emotions of their victims by offering a sob story to trick them into parting with their money. Our message to anyone who uses online dating platforms is this: Never send money to someone you have met online, no matter how convincing their story is or how invested in the relationship they seem. Please use our safe dating tips to avoid becoming a victim.”   

Andrew McClelland, CEO of the Online Dating Association, said: “Dating online is a great way to meet potential partners and build life-long friendships. However, it is important that users take steps to protect themselves from those that might wish them harm; in the same way you would do in any other social setting. We understand the excitement, so share your experiences with friends and family: they may help you spot something that doesn’t seem quite right. Be careful, have fun and keep our safety tips in mind.”

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director of Age UK said: “We know that more older people are joining dating websites and we would urge them to be vigilant about the possible risks and take steps to stay safe online. It is deeply concerning but perhaps not altogether surprising that approaching half (43%) of dating fraud victims are in their 50s and 60s.  People of this age may have lost a partner through death, divorce or separation, fuelling feelings of loneliness and increasing the attractions of online dating – unfortunately making them potentially vulnerable to scams.

“It’s never been more important for older people to be aware of the criminals who may prey on them online.  This kind of fraud is often orchestrated by networks who use sophisticated methods and invest time in developing fake relationships in order to manipulate their victims.  It could happen to anyone and is much more common than you might think – 10 people report this kind of fraud every day, with many more cases going unreported because of the stigma of having been so cruelly duped. These scams can have devastating consequences for older people’s wellbeing as well as their finances and we need to do everything possible to prevent them and to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Diana Fawcett, Chief Officer of independent charity Victim Support said: “Dating fraud can have devastating consequences for victims, which often go beyond the financial impact, affecting them emotionally and psychologically. We know that people often feel ashamed or embarrassed but what is important for them to know there is help and support available to them. We offer confidential practical and emotional help, whether or not the incident has been reported to the police, to help people move beyond the crime and begin to rebuild their lives.”

Victim Support is an independent charity that provides emotional and practical support to victims of all crimes, including romance fraud, across England and Wales. The service, which is delivered by trained professionals, is free and confidential. Support is available whether or not the crime has been reported to the police. Anyone seeking help can contact Victim Support through their free 24/7 Supportline number on 0808 16 89 111 or via the website – www.victimsupport.org.uk

(1) Figures have been taken from frauds reported to City of London Police between January – December 2017

(2) Figures have been taken from ONS data: https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/earningsandworkinghours/datasets/averageweeklyearningsearn01

By Get Safe Online