ROMANTICS in Warwickshire looking for love online are being urged not to get stung in the run-up to Valentine’s Day.
Family members are being urged to help protect internet dating relatives from becoming a victim of romance fraud, as new figures show 84 people in the county reported falling victim to a romance scam last year – with losses totalling almost £500,000 reported
Daters who strike up online relationships between Christmas and Valentine’s Day tend to be the most susceptible to romance fraud, with a spike of 901 reports recorded by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau last March.
Det Ch Supt Matt Bradford said: “Typically, romance fraudsters will spend weeks gaining their victims’ trust, feeding them fabricated stories about who they are and their lives – and initially make no suggestion of any desire to ask for any money, so the victim may believe their new love interest is genuine.
“But weeks, or sometimes months later, these criminals will ask for money for a variety of emotive reasons and as the emotional relationship has already been formed, victims often transfer money without a second thought.
“We’re calling on family members who think their relatives may be dating online to help make them aware of the warning signs that they could be falling victim to fraud, particularly if the person dating online is not particularly tech savvy.”
Criminals often use a range of stories to get victims to transfer them money without it raising suspicion. The stories are often believable, to a certain extent, and something the victim would find hard to say no to, especially because of their emotional attachment.
Examples of stories include funding travel to visit the victim, money to pay for emergency medical expenses, lucrative investment opportunities and pretending to be military personnel or working overseas.
How to help protect people you know are online dating
* Help friends and family to ensure they have adequate privacy settings on their social media accounts to ensure strangers don’t have access to their personal information.
* Stay in regular contact with your friends and family who are online dating to help spot any changes in behaviour or things that don’t seem right.
* Make friends and family aware of the signs of romance fraud so that they are conscious of the tactics criminals use to carry out these scams and reiterate that you should never transfer money to someone that you have never met in person.
* Encourage people to report to Action Fraud (online at police.uk or by calling 0300 123 204) if they have become a victim of romance fraud and not to be embarrassed about doing so.
Dr Hannah Shimko, Comms and Policy Director at the Online Dating Association, said: “Online dating is now of the most common ways to meet a romantic partner. While most users are genuine, there are always those who are looking to take advantage of the vulnerable looking for love.
“It is essential users educate themselves on how to be a smart online dater, and to be aware of the actions fraudsters will use to manipulate them. Daters should check in with trusted family and friends during their online dating journey to share experience, and friends and family can watch for any change in behaviour.
“Other healthy online dating advice includes staying on the dating platform which has processes in place to protect users; getting to know the person, not just the profile; and never disclosing personal information until the dater is ready. Finally, remember to never send money to someone met only online.”
Between November 2020 and October 2021, nearly 8,900 cases of romance fraud were reported to NFIB, up from just under 7,000 reports in the 2020 calendar year. However this is not likely to be an accurate picture, as romance fraud is a crime victims are less likely to report.