February 13th 2014
It's Valentine's Day tomorrow, and here at Get Safe Online we're urging you to be careful with not just your heart but also your safety, if you do online dating. The headline figures from new statistics issued by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) speak for themselves:
– UK public lost £34 million to ‘romance’ fraudsters in 2014
– Over half of victims suffering from a severe or significant emotional impact on physical and financial wellbeing
The figures reveal that online dating fraud in the UK is on the rise, with a 33% increase in fraud cases in 2014* compared to 2013** and costing the UK public £34 million compared to £24.5 million in the previous year.
There is also a significant rise in reported fraud cases from April 2014 to May 2014, suggesting that in the blissful wake of Valentine’s Day people may become more susceptible to romance scams, letting their heart rule their head when dating online.
The latest report shows that 85% of dating scams in 2014 stemmed from online dating websites or forums, highlighting that although the vast majority of people using dating sites are sincere and honest, it is important that users stay vigilant when using these sites, making sure they get to know people, take time and apply common sense.
Of the 15% of cases that didn’t originate on a dating site, 75% of a victim’s first contact with the suspect came through Facebook, where contact is commonly made by the suspect adding the victim as a friend in the expectation that the victim will accept the request. The same is true for Skype, Tagged, Google+, Email, and Friends Reunited.
The figures also demonstrate exactly how and where fraudsters are choosing to exploit their victims. 54% of fraud sufferers paid by money transfer (E.g. Money Gram or Western Union) narrowly shadowed by payments taken directly from bank accounts, which was the payment method used by 37% of victims. In terms of location, it looks like London is the main culprit for heartbreak with 325 cases reported in 2014, followed by Birmingham, Brighton and Manchester.
Tony Neate, our CEO here at Get Safe Online, commented: “It’s great when you click with someone online, just make sure you’re clicking safely! If someone you’ve never met declares their undying love for you after two online conversations, then this should raise suspicions. Likewise, it’s unlikely that someone would need to borrow money off somebody they have never met, or only just met, and there is no reason for anyone to ask you for money or your financial information, no matter what sob story they give. What strikes me is the length of time and effort fraudsters are willing to commit to in order to take people’s money and destroy their lives and confidence. One case which started in 2003 showed a victim giving over £45,000 to a fraudster over a period of nine years before they realised it was a scam and reported it to Action Fraud. For this victim, this would have rightly felt like a long-term and honest relationship."
Tony continued: “Even if you feel you have become closer to someone via email and phone, you should still remember that this person is largely a stranger to you so if you do feel ready to meet them in person, whether it is your first or fifth date, keep on high alert and report anything suspicious. With the right precautions in place, we can nip romance fraud in the bud and stop this type of case from repeating itself.”
Over half (57%) of all reported crimes relating to online dating were by women, with those aged 45-55 the most targeted. Male targets accounted for almost a third of all reported crimes (31%). Males aged 18-25 were more likely to be a victim of romance fraud, whilst women were more likely to be a victim aged 30-65.
The report also highlights the personal way in which people are targeted, showing the violation often goes far beyond monetary value. Over half (52%) of victims felt a severe or significant impact on their health or financial wellbeing as a result of online dating fraud.
These are some verbatim quotes from actual victims:
“He was very romantic, wrote me poems, said lovely things to me which I fell for”
“I know I have been very stupid but was vulnerable and fell for this person”
“I am worried – he has got photos of me and my children”
“I am ashamed and embarrassed”
“I have gone without food to pay him because I thought we were going to be an item”
Tell-tale signs 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 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
What the police say
Detective Superintendent Pete O'Doherty at the City of London Police said: “Dating fraudsters are heartless criminals who mostly operate online to manipulate their victims into believing they've established a strong emotional bond. Often the fraudster will not ask directly for money, preferring to bide their time and build a bond with their victim before ultimately inventing a reason why they urgently need money transferred into their account."
Mr O'Doherty went on to advise: "We advise that you never send funds to someone you have never met. If you’re in two minds always consult with a trusted friend or family member who will be able to view the situation objectively and provide some sound advice. It is also very important that if you think you are being targeted or have been a victim of dating fraud that you report it to Action Fraud. Sharing this information will help us identify and track down the criminals who are callously attempting to capitalise on people who are simply searching for love.”
Get Safe Online recommends the following tips to make sure you’re safe online:
– 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
– 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
– 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
* 9 months to 31 December 2014
** 9 months to 31 December 2013