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Thursday 11 February 2016, 9:47 AM

Online dating fraud in the UK cost victims a heart-breaking £27 million last year, according to new figures from Get Safe Online and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB). Between November 2014 and October 2015 almost 250 online dating related crimes in South West were reported to the police over 12 months totalling almost £1.6 million and the average loss standing at £6,900. 

 

Almost two thirds (62%) of all victims in the UK are aged between 40-69 accounting for £16 million of the total losses. People aged between 50-59 are the most likely victims accounting for a quarter of all frauds and losing just over £6 million. Although those aged between 40-49 accounted for less of the reported fraud (22%) over all losses were greater at £8 million.  

 

Almost two thirds (64%) of all romance scams originated on dating sites, followed by social media (25%) and 10% via email. 2% of reported dating frauds originated via contact made on dating apps. 

Tony Neate, CEO of Get Safe Online commented:“Online dating can be a great way to meet that special someone. However, it doesn’t hurt to place a little more caution when using these sites to start talking to someone, just as you would if you met a stranger in a bar or at a party. 

“What’s frustrating is that there are a minority of people who use online dating as a forum to target vulnerable people, knowing if they invest a lot of time into building a relationship with someone, they could potentially steal a lot of money. This is demonstrated by the huge amount lost to online dating-related crimes last year, with the average loss standing at a worrying £10,000. 

“The financial loss is one thing, but it’s the emotional impact this sort of crime has which is severe. When someone places a lot of trust and faith in a person who they think they know, they often don’t separate their emotional feelings from rationale. Often when victims do start to suspect something isn’t quite right, they’re already in deep, so it’s extremely easy to ignore those little niggles of doubt and choose to trust someone – it’s this factor which online criminals exploit. 

“It’s important to remember that it’s highly unlikely anyone legitimate would ask for any kind of financial assistance for whatever reason. Plus, if there are any immediate doubts, speak to a family member of friend to get a second, more objective opinion. If someone is keen to take contact off the dating site very quickly, this could be a sign that they have something to hide. 

“By following these steps, we hope we can put a stop to this targeted and emotional form of online crime.” 

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 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

If you think you have been a victim of fraud you should report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre by calling 0300 123 20 40 or by visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk. For further advice on how to stay safe online go to www.GetSafeOnline.org.