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Love hurts – don't lose your heart or your money to fraudsters this Valentine’s day

Published on 13 February 2018 01:03 AM

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 a staggering £41million in 2017 alone, according to figures from The City of London Police, whose remit covers online fraud nationwide.

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 nationally, averaging 10 reports a day.

This staggering amount equates to £11,500 per victim – a startling amount for any individual to lose. To put this into context, £11,500 is more than two-fifths of the average salary.

Those who fall victim to these frauds are almost twice as likely to be women (63% compared with 37% of men) and in their forties (22%) or fifties (25%). Only 13% of the reported frauds impacted those under 30.

Fraud victims often too embarrassed to report it

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).

#DateSafe tips

  1. Don't rush into an online relationship – get to know the person, not the profile and ask plenty of questions
  2. 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
  3. Talk to your friends and family about your dating choices. Be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them
  4. 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
  5. 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.'

Suzanne Grimmer, Detective Inspector at the Metropolitan Police (FALCON) said: 'These criminals have no conscience. They prey on the kindness, good nature and emotions of their victims by offering a sob story to trick them into parting with their money.

'Our message to anyone who uses online dating platforms is this: Never send money to someone you have met online, no matter how convincing their story is or how invested in the relationship they seem. Please use our safe dating tips to avoid becoming a victim.'

'These scams can have devastating consequences for older people'

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director of Age UK said: 'It's never been more important for older people to be aware of the criminals who may prey on them online. This kind of fraud is often orchestrated by networks who use sophisticated methods and invest time in developing fake relationships in order to manipulate their victims. It could happen to anyone and is much more common than you might think – 10 people report this kind of fraud every day, with many more cases going unreported because of the stigma of having been so cruelly duped.

'These scams can have devastating consequences for older people's wellbeing as well as their finances and we need to do everything possible to prevent them and to bring the perpetrators to justice.'

Diana Fawcett, Chief Officer of independent charity Victim Support said: 'We know that people often feel ashamed or embarrassed but what is important for them to know there is help and support available to them. We offer confidential practical and emotional help, whether or not the incident has been reported to the police, to help people move beyond the crime and begin to rebuild their lives.'

Victim Support is an independent charity that provides emotional and practical support to victims of all crimes, including romance fraud, across England and Wales. The service, which is delivered by trained professionals, is free and confidential. Support is available whether or not the crime has been reported to the police.

Anyone seeking help can contact Victim Support through their free 24/7 Supportline number on 0808 16 89 111 or via the website – www.victimsupport.org.uk.

You might also find useful

Age UK offers a wide range of free advice on both scams and dating in later life. Follow the links below to explore these topics further:

 

Last updated: Feb 13 2018

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