Lincolnshire Police and Action Fraud are warning the public to spot the signs of ‘romance fraud’ ahead of Valentine’s Day.
This comes as reports made to Action Fraud reveal that a staggering £50,766,602 was lost to romance fraud in 2018 – an average of £11,145 per victim and a 27 per cent increase on the previous year.
One case study reveals how a woman lost nearly £10,000 to a romance fraudster who claimed to be in the British Army.
Romance fraud happens when a person thinks they have met the perfect partner through an online dating website, app, or through social media, but in fact a fraudster is using a fake profile to form a relationship with them. They will gain the person’s trust and ask for money or enough personal information to steal the victim’s identity.
New statistics released today reveal that many people across the UK continue to fall victim to this type of fraud, often with devastating consequences. In 2018, 4,555 reports of romance fraud were made to Action Fraud, with victims reporting to have lost over £50 million.
Not only are victims losing vast amounts of money, the emotional impact this may have can be even more difficult to come to terms with. In a report produced by Action Fraud, 42 per cent of victims described falling victim to romance fraud as having a significant impact on their health or financial well-being.
The report also showed that the average age of a romance fraud victim is 50 and that 63 per cent of dating fraud victims are female who lose twice as much on average than males.
Action Fraud believes that these numbers do not accurately represent the true scale of the problem. Some people may feel embarrassed to have fallen victim which may discourage them from coming forward to report their experience.
Action Fraud is working with Date Safe to raise awareness of the risks of romance fraud in the UK. The group’s members include Action Fraud and the City of London Police, Get Safe Online, the Metropolitan Police, Age UK, Victim Support, Scamalytics and the Online Dating Association (ODA).
Date Safe tips on how to avoid a #fauxmance:
○ Don’t rush into an online relationship – get to know the person, not the profile and ask plenty of questions.
○ 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.
○ Talk to your friends and family about your dating choices. Be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them.
○ 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 have been speaking to them.
○ Stay on the dating site messenger service until you are 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 are going to be.
Angela Lambert, crime prevention and partnerships for Lincolnshire Police, said: “The cost to victims, both emotionally and financially increases each year, as does romance fraud.
“The emotional damage of falling victim to romance fraud can often be far more difficult to come to terms with.
“Heartless fraudsters are cruelly targeting vulnerable victims and exploiting those looking for love online.
“Together with our partners, we are urging people to spot the signs of romance fraud and to follow the ‘Date Safe’ advice this Valentine’s Day and in the future.”
CEO of the Online Dating Association, George Kidd, said: “Dating services are part of our social fabric, accounting for about a third of all new relationships. They are enjoyed by millions and we want everyone to have a great and safe experience.
“We ask users to stay alert online just as they would in any other walk of life: use the in-built messaging services and be wary of people who want to get you away from this. Be wary of those who shower you with loving messages instantly, but may not want to meet. And, no one you meet online should ever ask you for money.”
Chief Officer at independent charity Victim Support, Diana Fawcett, said: “Romance fraud affects victims both emotionally and financially and for many the impact can be long-term.
“These scams can be extremely sophisticated and victims should not feel ashamed or embarrassed and shouldn’t blame themselves in any way.”