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Don’t invest your heart in a fauxmance: victims lose over £50 million to romance fraud

Action Fraud is warning the public to spot the signs of romance fraud ahead of Valentine’s Day.

  • 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% increase on the previous year.
  • One case study reveals how she lost nearly £10,000 to a romance fraudster who claimed to be in the British Army.

What is romance fraud?

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% 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% 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 the Date Safe working group 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've been speaking to them.
  • Stay on the dating site messenger service until you’re 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’re going to be.

Head of the City of London Police’s Economic Crime Department, Commander Karen Baxter, said:

“As cases of romance fraud increase each year, so too does the cost to victims, both emotionally and financially. 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.

“If you think you have been a victim of romance fraud, please report this to Action Fraud.”

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.”

Financial Abuse Safeguarding Officer for Sussex and Surrey Police, Bernadette Lawrie BEM, said:

"Romance fraud accounts for 10% of all vulnerable victim fraud reports across our counties and is one of the most despicable crimes we see. The devastating and lasting impact it has on victims goes far beyond the financial loss.

Victims are targeted and exploited when they are at their most vulnerable and the complex tactics and deceitful tales that lure the victims into parting with such huge sums of money are quite astonishing. One of the most difficult conversations we have is telling a victim that not only will they not see their money come back but that the person they believe they are in a relationship with and are looking forward to a future with, is in fact a criminal posing under a false identity.”

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.

“It’s important that victims know there is help available to them and we would encourage them to seek support.”

Managing Director, Economic Crime at UK Finance, Katy Worobec, said:

“We are urging customers to be vigilant against romance scams and not let a fraudster fool you this Valentine’s.

“Banks are always looking out for any suspicious transactions, but we need customers to be on the guard against suspicious approaches too.

“Always be wary of any requests for money from someone you’ve never met in person. If you think you may have fallen victim to a romance scam, contact your bank straight away and report it to Action Fraud.”

Metropolitan Police’s Detective Inspector Suzanne Grimmer said:

“This cruel fraud is one of the most devastating for our victims to deal with because they have suffered losses both financially and emotionally. The fraudster preys on the emotions of individuals looking for companionship for their own self-gain and profit.  Please follow our “Date Safe” advice to ensure you are aware of how to protect yourself whilst dating online. 

“If you believe you may have been victim of a romance fraud please come forward and report it to Action Fraud – you are not alone and this action may help prevent others falling victim too”.

Notes to editors

Romance fraud case study: Elspet, 67.

Before retiring, Elspet worked as a nurse, a community support worker and then in a garage. She has one son and lives alone near Newcastle.

In February 2016, Elspet joined a dating website in search of happiness and a partner. She started talking to a man who claimed his name was Brian. He said he was in Syria with the British Army. After speaking for some time, he said he had a box of personal belongings and that he needed Elspet’s help to have these brought to the UK.

‘Brian’ said he knew a diplomat who was coming over to the UK and would be able to bring the box. He asked Elspet for money to pay for the diplomat’s air fares and courier fees. He gained Elspet’s trust by talking about getting married and buying a house together. He had even sent her a rose and a box of chocolates. Elspet initially sent £2,000 to an account in Germany, which she had to take a loan out to cover. He then asked for more money to cover the diplomat’s ‘fares’ from Germany and Elspet took money out of a private pension to cover this.

After sending around £10,000, Elspet told him she was not able to send any more money and at this point, he looked for sympathy and claimed the diplomat had been shot. Elspet grew suspicious and started to ask questions, which he was unable to answer. She then phoned the Foreign Office who broke the news that this was in fact a scam.

After reporting this to the police, Elspet was visited by a police officer. At the time of his visit, Elspett was struggling financially as a result of this fraud and was using a food bank at a local community centre. The officer helped her to rebuild her confidence and before speaking to him, Elspet admits that she had had suicidal thoughts.

That same year in August, Elspet was sadly diagnosed with a brain tumour. Following a successful operation, she is now on the road to recovery.

Determined not to let the fraudsters win, Elspet has turned her life around and now volunteers at the same community centre for four days a week.

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