If Valentine’s Day has inspired you to look for love online, make sure you fall for the right person. Don’t fall for romance fraud.
Considering the increased isolation that people have been forced to cope with over the past couple of years (well, most people, right Sue Gray?), it’s little wonder that many people turn to dating apps to find companionship.
And of course, most people who use online dating sites are likeminded people looking for a date, for love, a soulmate or their ‘forever person’, whatever that is! But unfortunately for some dastardly and fraudulent love rats, money is the only way to their heart.
We know that - courtesy of Action Fraud - statistically speaking, people who turn to dating apps at this time of year are more vulnerable. Action Fraud claim that “daters striking up online romances between Christmas and Valentine’s Day tend to be more susceptible to romance fraud”.
So, what should you look out for?
Typically, online fraudsters will create a false profile which includes the use of fake pictures. They will simply grab images of an attractive-looking person and hide behind them, knowing that an attractive photograph will stop people ‘swiping’ - it’s the first mechanism of their honey trap.
They may also state that they are highly educated, or their job allows them to work overseas, creating an allure or an intrigue. For example, they may say they are in the Army or a businessperson, heightening that sense of mystique or excitement which could further enhance the attraction.
They may impart seemingly unrealistic stories about their travel experiences, or their exploits in their working life; ‘a cliff-jumper in my spare time’, ‘a CEO of a company emerging out of Singapore to rival Apple’, ‘the next Zuckerberg’. You get the picture.
But some may not go that far. Some will play it cool by subtly and cleverly appearing withdrawn or secretive, hoping that curiosity will be their hook. They may be the ones who are asking the other person all the questions and won’t actually reveal much about themselves, so that any attempt to check or verify them is not easy.
They may be asking questions to gain trust. But this won’t be because they are genuinely interested in what their victim has to say, but rather to enable them to manipulate the conversation, to garner empathy or to take control. It’s them setting the foundations that perhaps you’d expect from a respectable person. But this technique could be their way of getting a victim to part with their money.
This communication can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months in order to dupe the victim into developing genuine feelings. Once the fraudster believes they have done enough groundwork, they will begin to use a range of stories to prompt the victim to transfer money to them without raising suspicion. This could be anything from asking for money to pay for emergency medical care - either for them or a family member; asking the victim to transfer money to buy a plane or train ticket so that they can meet, or asking for a short-term loan which they promise they will pay back.
They may not even ask. They may simply allude to a financial problem that is worrying them. By now, if the victim has developed feelings for this person, they may offer to lend them money out of the goodness of their heart. The fraudster might say: “let’s keep this transaction between ourselves”, as a villainous way of keeping a lid on their tricks. They won’t want the victim’s friends and family knowing that money has changed hands. They will want to keep suspicion from outsiders to an absolute minimum.
Also, they’ll normally steer their victim away from chatting on a legitimate dating site. They'll want to talk on email, text, WhatsApp and phone, rather than through the dating site or chatroom where they first met their prey.
Some experts suggest that a tell-tale sign of a fraudster is poor grammar. We disagree. Who uses grammar online these days? Some people just don’t use apostrophes, we just have to accept that!
Remember: if they sound too good to be true, they probably are. If they sound dodgy, they probably are. Watch out for those red flags.
The crux of this is DO NOT TRANSFER MONEY TO ANYONE YOU MEET ONLINE. They can seem like the nicest person in the world, but that is their plan.
To recap then…
It is important that no matter how long you’ve been speaking to someone online and how much you think you trust them, if you have not met them in person it’s important that you do not:
Send them any money
Allow them access to your bank account
Transfer money on their behalf or accept any offer of money
Take a loan out for them
Provide copies of your personal documents such as passports or driving licenses
Invest your own money on their behalf or on their advice
Purchase and send the codes on gift cards from Amazon or iTunes
Agree to receive and/or send parcels on their behalf (laptops, mobile phones etc.)
How to report it
If you think you have been a victim of a romance scam, do not feel ashamed or embarrassed - you are not alone. Contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or via actionfraud.police.uk. If you are in Scotland, please report to Police Scotland directly by calling 101.
Report all Fraud and Cybercrime to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or online. Forward suspicious emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. Report SMS scams by forwarding the original message to 7726 (spells SPAM on the keypad).