Online dating fraud cost the UK’s would-be lovebirds at least £27 million last year, according to statistics from the City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) and Get Safe Online.
More than 2,700 crimes related to online dating were reported to Action Fraud over a 12-month period, with an average financial loss of £10,000. However, the true figures are thought to be much greater, due to embarrassed victims not reporting the incidents.
People aged between 50-59 are the most likely victims, accounting for a quarter of all frauds and losing just over £6 million.
Around two thirds (62%) of victims are aged between 40-69, adding up to £16 million of the total losses.
Almost two thirds (64%) of all romance scams originated on dating sites, followed by social media (25%) and 10% via email. However, only 2% of reported dating frauds originated via contact made on dating apps.
City of London Police’s Commander Chris Greany, the Police National Coordinator for Economic Crime said: “Romance fraudsters are using every method available to exploit people looking for love - including dating websites, social media and direct emails. These heartless criminals will specifically target those who they deem to be vulnerable and most likely to fall for their scams
“Key advice to follow which will help you stay safe includes never sending funds to someone you have never met. If you’re in two minds always consult with a trusted friend or family member who will be able to view the situation objectively and provide another opinion on the situation.
The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau also issued advice on the tell-tale signs to watch out for:
Your online date want to communicate with you through instant messaging and texts, rather than through the dating website or chat room where you met.
They ask you lots of questions about yourself, but don’t tell you much about themselves.
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, and tell a family member or friend where you are.
To report a fraud and receive a police crime reference number, call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or use the online fraud reporting tool at http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/report_fraud For further advice on how to stay safe online visit www.GetSafeOnline.org.