Do not let your heart rule your head and beware of romance fraud in lockdown
Alert message sent 11/02/2021 16:05:00
Information sent on behalf of Wiltshire Police
Ahead of what’s celebrated to be the most romantic day of the year, we want to warn those who may be looking for love online, to always exercise a little caution.
The last year has unquestionably caused an increase in loneliness for many, so it is particularly important to remind our communities of the potential dangers of online dating as some people may be even more susceptible than normal.
Of course, the use of dating apps is a growing trend amongst singletons of all ages, making it easier than ever to meet new people, make friends, and potentially find love. Apps have moved with the times and added new functions such as voice and video call or photo and video sharing.
However, we all need to be aware that there’s a darker side to dating websites that provides a rife hunting ground for fraudsters, looking for vulnerable people to trick out of vast sums of money, through the promise of a romantic relationship.
The anonymity of these platforms makes it easy for tricksters to make contact, begin an innocent enough conversation, which leads to the start of a relationship, reeling the victim in. Then relatively quickly the conversation is often moved onto another platform, which makes it harder to trace and the dating websites no longer have control.
Then the requests for money will begin. They’ll give a justifiable reason, perhaps it’s the airfare to visit their beloved, or a family member needs urgent medical treatment and they’re asking for help. The cash is then transferred several times, often to overseas bank accounts, making it incredibly difficult to track.
Sucked in by the dream of genuine romance, victims in Wiltshire have been conned out of huge sums of money, on average £8,000, but has been up an extortionate £180,000. In 2020 alone, over £68 million was lost nationally to criminals who commit romance fraud. This can lead to utter devastation for those who have been affected.
We also need to remember that criminals use legitimate dating or social media services to befriend people online using fake identities to persuade victims to send intimate pictures, videos or perform sexual acts. These are recorded or saved by the fraudsters who then threaten to share the content with friends and family, unless a payment is made. This is known as “Sextortion”, and both men and women can be victims of this crime.
These issues go largely unreported due to the embarrassment and shame felt once the realisation of what’s happened sets in. Most online platforms have a reporting tool, blocking their profile and protecting other users from criminals so it’s important to stay on these.
Wiltshire Police Fraud Manager, Alison Wiles, commented “As people now spend a much larger amount of their time online, we’ve seen a rise in romance fraud over the last year - many people are experiencing loneliness in isolation and consider online sites as a good way to reach out for much craved human interaction. Suspects use this to their advantage, they’re heartless and prey on the most vulnerable, but this is an easily preventable crime.
“A few simple background checks when you’re first talking to someone will give you a good indication if who you’re talking to is really who they say they are. If you think they’re too good to be true, maybe they are.
“Talk to a close friend or family member to run the situation by them, they’ll be a good reality check. Never disclose personal information or intimate images to someone who you’ve never met and keep conversations on the original platform. Certainly never transfer money to someone you made contact with through an online dating platform.”
It’s important to remember that the vast majority of profiles are genuine so don’t be discouraged, friendship and romance are still out there. Be cautious though, and if you think you may have been a victim of romance fraud, sextortion or suspect someone you’re talking to could be a fraudster, report it to Action Fraud at www.actionfraud.police.uk or call 101 for advice.