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Figures show online dating fraud is up by 33% last year

13th February 2015

The statistics issued by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) show the UK public lost £34 million to ‘romance’ fraudsters in 2014, a 33% increase in fraud cases in compared to 2013.

Get Safe Online and Action Fraud are urging people to be careful with not just your heart but also your safety, if you do online dating.

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.

Fraudsters favour money transfers

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.

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.

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.

Tony Neate, CEO 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.

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."

"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.”

* 9 months to 31 December 2014
** 9 months to 31 December 2013

Read more on the Get Safe Online website. 

Please note: Action Fraud is not responsible for the content on external websites.

If you are a victim of fraud you can call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or use our online fraud reporting tool and receive a police crime reference number.