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Posted on: 1st February 2020

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Romance Fraud - don't let online romancers steal your heart - or your money

WITH the most romantic day of the year just around the corner, Valentine’s Day is not just for those people who are already ‘coupled up’.

An estimated seven million UK residents are registered on dating sites, and around one in three relationships in the UK now start online.

However, while for many it may be romance and roses; for an increasing number of others it can spiral into heart break and a financial misery.

However, while for many it may be romance and roses; for an increasing number of others it can spiral into heart break and a financial misery.

Romance fraud affects thousands of people; with woman making up the majority of victims. Fraudsters trick victims into sending money or gather enough personal information to steal their identities. In Cambridgeshire last year (2019) there were 86 reports of romance fraud, with total losses to victims of £558,026. Nationally, the figure was more than £68million affecting 63% of women, 36.5% of men and 0.2% transgender.

However, the figures are considerably much higher as only 5% of scams are reported.

The majority of accounts on dating websites are genuine people looking for romance, but fraudsters may try to contact you by making fake profiles, getting in touch and building what feels like a loving relationship.

Once a fraudster using a fake dating profile is confident that they’ve won your trust, they will tell you about a problem they’re experiencing and ask you to help out by sending money.

They may have arranged to visit you, but need money to pay for the flight or visa. They may tell you everything has been booked but their ticket has been stolen, and you need to send money quickly to get them on the next flight.

Alternatively they may prey on your sympathies, telling you a family member or someone else they are responsible for is ill and they need money for medical treatment.

Once you send them money, the fraudsters will keep coming back and invent new reasons to send them more.

There are a few simple steps to keep yourself, and your loved ones, safe from fraudsters -  who often target the vulnerable, the lonely or recently widowed or divorced. 

D - Don't rush into an online relationship. Get to know the person, not the profile, ensuring you ask plenty of questions. The vast majority of romance fraud is initiated online.

A - Analyse their profile. Protect yourself by confirming their identity. Check the person is genuine by putting the following into your search engine: their name, profile picture (by simply using a reverse image search) and any repeatedly used phrases, along with the term 'dating scam'. Be mindful that a fraudster could be hiding behind an alias and have changed details connecting them to previous fraudulent activity.

T - Talk to your friends and family. Be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them. Romance fraud involves grooming over a long period of time. Alienating a victim from their friends and family can make up part of that process.

E - Evade scams. Never send money or share your bank details with someone you've only met online. it doesn't matter how long you've been speaking to them or what story they give behind needing the sum.

S - Stay on the dating site messenger service. Fraudsters will often encourage their victims to use different communications channels that are often undetectable. Be confident that you know who you are speaking to and be wary if they fail to meet you in person.

A local woman lost everything to Romance Fraud; including her home. Read Carol’s story at https://cambridgeshireinsight.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Carols-story.pdf

Please take a moment to watch the following Met Police's video on how these fraudsters operate and how to protect yourself...

In addition to the above, two of Cambridgeshire Police's Crime Reduction Officers Helen O'Driscoll and Amanda Large carried out a Live interview on Valentine's Day 2020 which was aired on the force's Facebook page. Three victims of Romance Fraud also took part. EVERYTHING anyone needs to know about Romance Fraud is covered in this session. This can be watched at https://www.facebook.com/CambsCops/videos/602271340334848/?vh=e&d=n

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