£92m lost to online romance fraud in past 12 months

Almost £92 million has been lost through dating scams in the past 12 months, according to the latest figures from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB).

Jan 11, 2022
By Paul Jacques

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 NFIB in March 2021.

The NIPB, which sits alongside Action Fraud within City of London Police, said despite a peak of romance fraud reports and losses of £8.7 million reported in March, the financial spike came two months later in May 2021, where losses of “a staggering £14.6 million” were reported.

Temporary Detective Chief Superintendent Matt Bradford, of City of London Police, 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.”

City of London Police is now urging family members of online daters  to help protect their relatives from becoming a victim of romance fraud.

“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,” added Det Chief Supt Bradford.

He said 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 that the victim would find hard to say no to, especially because of their emotional attachment.

Examples 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.

Between November 2020 and October 2021, 8,863 cases of romance fraud were reported to NFIB, up from 6,968 reports in the 2020 calendar year. However, it said this is not likely to be an accurate picture, as romance fraud is a crime victims are less likely to report.

Of the reports in the past 12 months, 20 per cent of victims were aged 50-59 years, 18 per cent were aged 40-49 and 17 per cent were aged 30-39. Half of romance fraud victims were women, just over a third (39 per cent) were men and some victims (11 per cent) did not report their gender.

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.”

She said other “healthy online dating advice” includes staying on the dating platform that has processes in place to protect users; getting to know the person, not just the profile; never disclosing personal information until the dater is ready; and never sending money to someone met only online.

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