New statistics released ahead of Valentine’s Day prove that the UK is continuing to lose huge amounts of money to romance fraud – with victims conned out of £41 million in 2017 alone. This is according to figures from The City of London Police, whose remit covers online fraud nationwide, working with Get Safe Online and its partners.
Romance fraud is described as when someone creates a fake identity to enter into a relationship with a victim with the intent to steal either funds or personal information. In 2017, 3557 romance frauds were reported to Action Fraud, averaging 10 reports a day.
This amount equates to £11,500 per victim. Those who fall victim to these frauds are almost twice as likely to be women (63% compared with 37% of men).
However, evidence suggests these numbers do not accurately represent the true scale of the problem due to the embarrassment felt by some victims of fraud, which can discourage people from coming forward to report their experience. But reporting is crucial in stopping these fraudsters whose impact extends beyond just taking the money.
Almost half (43%) of victims said that the crime had a ‘significant’ impact on their health or financial wellbeing.
A further 18% had to receive medical treatment as a result of being a victim of a romance scam – or had been left at risk of bankruptcy.
The report comes from a new #DateSafe working group, tasked with raising awareness of the risks of romance fraud in the UK. The group includes Get Safe Online, City of London Police, London Metropolitan Police (FALCON), Age UK, Victim Support and the Online Dating Association (ODA).
The group will also share its five #DateSafe tips across websites and social media platforms to help inform and protect users of dating sites and apps ahead of Valentine’s Day.
- 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.
Tony Neate, CEO of Get Safe Online commented: “Lots of happy relationships are built as a result of meeting someone online. However, as in any form of dating, there are some nasty characters out there who will try and take advantage of someone looking for love. If you’re using online dating tools in your search for ‘the one’, it is important you have your wits about you, so you can spot when something isn’t quite right, before you get in too deep and can no longer see the warning signs. Our five tips will hopefully help you do just that – so you can enjoy online dating without worrying about who’s behind the profile.”
The City of London Police’s Commander Dave Clark, the National Co-ordinator for Economic Crime said: “We see many cases of dating fraud each year, in which the cost is high, both emotionally and financially. Heartless fraudsters cruelly use dating websites, social media and direct emails to exploit those looking for love. Fraud can manifest itself in many different forms and is constantly evolving; it can have a major impact on victims, both financially and psychologically. In the case of dating fraud, the emotional damage is often far more difficult to come to terms with. These callous criminals will target vulnerable victims for their own monetary gain and our latest intelligence tells us that women in their forties are the most likely to be tricked in this way. We are therefore urging people to spot the signs of dating fraud in order to protect themselves and to follow the ‘Date Safe’ advice this Valentine’s Day and in the future.
“If you think you have been a victim of dating fraud, it is very important that you report this to Action Fraud. Sharing this information will help us to track down and identify these cruel criminals who manipulate and take advantage of people who are searching for love.”