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The cost of online dating fraud

February 12th 2014

As the use of the internet for dating increases, so do the number of scams associated with it . . . and the amount of money lost. In the UK, this type of fraud is costing the victims a heart-breaking £24.5million per year, with over 2,800 people reporting online dating related crimes to the police in 2013 alone. According to new figures from Get Safe Online and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), one unfortunate victim lost an eye-watering £850,000 looking for love online.

For advice on how to keep online dating safe, click here

Further statistics show that:

- The average amount lost is £8,750 per person
- 55% of all reported crimes came from 40-59 year olds and 63% from females
- 16% (457) of reported victims parted with £10,000 or more, with 49 people reporting to have lost more than £100,000
- The top five countries where fraudsters purport to be from are England, followed by the United States, Nigeria, Ghana and Russia

According to police reports, most dating scams stem from online dating websites or forums, whereby victims are duped by criminals using fake personal profiles. Once these suspects have gained trust of their victims, they begin to request money under the guise of various false eventualities. This could be anything from a medical problem for either themselves or a family member that requires substantial funding, to them claiming to be military personnel based overseas who require funds for flights home or early discharge from the forces.

In other instances, as the online relationship develops, the exchanges become more intimate and the victims might be asked to share intimate pictures of themselves or perform sexual acts in front of a webcam.  These images or videos are then used by the criminals to blackmail the victim into handing over money.

As a result, we are urging online daters to be extra vigilant this Valentine’s Day. Our CEO Tony Neate says: “There’s nothing better than meeting someone special and falling in love and online dating sites are a great way to do this. Unfortunately, there are groups of people out there that want to take advantage of this for their own ends. It’s upsetting to see that online daters are losing so much money to romance fraud, especially the individual who lost £850,000. The actual figure is likely to be much more though, as we strongly believe that this type of fraud is the most under reported as people are just too embarrassed to come forward." Tony adds "We’re not saying don’t go on these sites, we’re just urging people to stay vigilant and if you spot any of the tell tale signs we’ve highlighted, definitely let your head rule your heart!”

Tell tale signs that your online date may be a fraudster

- They want to communicate with you through instant messaging and, texts, rather than through the dating website or chat room where you met
- They ask you lots of questions about yourself but don’t tell you much about themselves
- They quickly start calling you by a pet name or use endearing terms such as ‘darling’
- 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 start asking you to send them money using a number of different scenarios such as:
    - Claiming to be military personnel based overseas who require funds for flights home or early discharge from the forces
    - Citing medical related issues they need money for such as a sudden need for surgery, either for the fraudster or the fraudster’s family member
    - They’ve arranged to visit you but need money to pay travel costs

Det Supt Pete O'Doherty at the City of London Police said: “As more and more people go online in search of new friendships and relationships the last thing they may expect is to be targeted and exploited by calculating criminals. Unfortunately for some this will be their ultimate experience of internet dating."

He continued; “Using these websites is still a safe and fun way to meet people but it is very important to be aware of the warning signs that may indicate a new friend is not all that they seem. Keeping these in mind when you go online will ensure you can spot any fraudsters coming your way and are instead able to focus on those who legitimately want to win your heart.”

Some top tips to help you enjoy safe online dating

- Trust your instincts - if you think something feels wrong, it probably is
- Choose a site that will protect your anonymity until you choose to reveal personal information and that will enforce its policies against inappropriate use
- Be sure to run a Google image search on the photos in profiles you receive, to ensure they have not been stolen to create a fake profile
- Do not post personal information, such as phone numbers, on dating sites
- Never send money or give credit card or online account details to anyone you don’t know and trust
- Wait until you feel comfortable with an individual before telling them things like your phone number, place of work or address
- Be extremely wary about removing clothes or doing other things in front of your webcam that could be used against you - even if you think you know the other party
- Use a dating site that offers the ability to email prospective dates using a service that conceals both parties’ true email addresses
- Set up a separate email account that does not use your real name
- Make sure your phone number is ‘blocked’ to people you contact on dating sites
- Pick a user name that does not include any personal information. For example, “joe_glasgow” or “jane_liverpool” would be bad choices
- Finally, meet for the first few times in a safe place with plenty of people around

If you have been a victim of romance fraud

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 by visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk  For further advice on how to stay safe in any aspect of your digital life, please have a look around this website.