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Many thousands of people use online dating sites in the UK to meet people and most do so without any major problems, even if they don’t find the person they’re looking for!
Unfortunately there are a few who fall into the trap of having their emotions cloud their judgement leading to financial loss and so I thought it would be helpful to include the following information published by West Mercia Police on 27 May 2014. The article contains useful tips on how to avoid such scams but importantly provides a number of true victims’ tales to help those of you using on-line dating services to spot the traps.
Detective Constable Tina Athwal, a fraud investigator with the Economic Crime Unit of West Mercia and Warwickshire's police services sets the scene.....
“As use of the internet for dating purposes increases, so do the number of scams associated with it …… and the amount of money lost.
“Most dating scams stem from online dating websites or forums, whereby criminals using fake personal profiles dupe victims.
“Once fraudsters have gained the trust of their victims, they begin to request money under the guise of various false eventualities. These could be anything from a medical problem they have to claiming to be military personnel based overseas and needing funds for flights home or early discharge.
“In other instances, as the online relationship develops, the exchanges become more intimate and the victims might be asked to share intimate pictures or perform sexual acts in front of a web cam. These images or videos are then used by the criminals to blackmail the victim into handing over money.
“People should think twice before taking a relationship “offline” and be extremely wary about sending money to people following internet contact.
“We are dealing with people who become victims as a result of doing nothing more than look for a relationship and, after believing stories they’ve been told, have parted with large amounts of their hard-earned money.”
If you use online dating sites look out for the following WARNING SIGNS
- They want to communicate with you through instant messaging and texts, rather than through the dating website or chat room where you met
- They ask lots of questions about you, but don’t tell much about themselves
- They quickly start calling you by a pet name or use endearing terms such as “darling”
- 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 money using a number of different scenarios
- They’ve arranged to visit you but need money to pay travel costs
TOP TIPS to help you enjoy safe online dating:
- Trust your instincts If you think something feels wrong, it probably is
- Choose a website that will protect your anonymity until you choose to reveal personal information and that will enforce its policies against inappropriate use
- Be sure to run a Google image search on the photos in profiles you receive to ensure they have not been stolen to create a fake profile
- 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 revealing your phone number, place of work or address
- Be extremely wary about removing clothes or doing other things in front of your web cam 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
- Make sure your phone number is ‘blocked’ to people you contact on dating sites
- Pick a user name that does not include personal information. BAD choices would be: “joe_glasgow” or “jane_liverpool”
- Finally, meet for the first few times in a safe place with plenty of people around -
See ‘Avoiding rape and sexual assault on a night out’ in Rape and Sexual Assault on this site for some additional help and guidance
Recent case studies of romance frauds in the Warwickshire Police and West Mercia Police areas.
- A Rugby woman liaised with a man on a dating website. He claimed to be divorced, from Wolverhampton and was working abroad but had been jailed for assaulting a customs official. The man asked her for money to buy his way out of prison and also claimed to have a sick son in America. On saying she had no money to send, the man asked if he could get a friend to send her some money to forward to a church via an international money transfer facilitator. Although the woman lost no money of her own, she was used to launder fraudulently-obtained cash.
- A Leamington man exchanged messages with an attractive woman via text and emails and not via the social network site they met on. They actually met in person and she promised to marry him on returning from visiting relatives in America. He later received an email saying she had spent three months in hospital following a road accident in America and had been fined for overstaying her visa. He received further messages that she was due to inherit property from her father and would repay him in due course. The victim sent £26,000, again by an international money transfer facilitator. Further inspection showed the paperwork he received was fake and the social network used had no established background, appearing to have been set up as a front.
- A vulnerable man with learning difficulties from Telford became friendly with a Ghanaian who was going to move to the UK to be with him. The victim sent nearly £1,000 to pay for a visa before the scam was exposed.
- A Shropshire man “met” a woman on a dating site last October. They formed a relationship and she introduced him to a lawyer who offered investment opportunities regarding a cocoa plantation in Africa. He sent more than £16,000 to people in Ghana and Holland.
- A woman from Worcester “met” a man on a dating site who said he worked as a neuro surgeon for the United Nations. He claimed to have been posted to Damascus, Syria in August last year and then to Abuja in Nigeria on 1st December. She received flattering texts and emails and he quickly started using terms of endearment. The scammer said his bank account was not active while on duty for the UN and arranged for funds to be paid into her account for her to forward to him via a money transfer facilitator. She inadvertently became a “money mule”, laundering funds obtained from other romance scam victims, for the fraudster.
- Earlier this year, a Worcester widow sent payments totalling £20,000 to a man in Ghana. She met him last summer following communication on a dating website and the man claimed he was a widower with a daughter living in London. A woman, purporting to be his daughter, even phoned the victim to introduce herself. The victim knew little else about the man, who stated he worked away on business in various countries as a consultant.
- An elderly Shropshire man lost £25,000 sent to various people in Nigeria, Ghana and Zimbabwe. The victim used skype to speak to others from all over the world who shared similar interests. He then began to receive unsolicited contact from a woman in Ghana and eventually the conversation became sexual. Someone purporting to be from a newspaper in Ghana then made contact, saying they were going to report him to the courts. He was then contacted by another person saying they could represent him in the High Court and money was forwarded to pay for a “fine”. The scam came to light when court documents sent to him were found to be fake.
- A Warwick woman parted with almost £30,000 after “meeting” a man on an online dating site claiming to be an American soldier living in Birmingham. He persuaded her to forward money via an international money transfer facilitator to help set up a business deal in Nigeria while he served in Afghanistan, promising to pay her back on his return. The money was never repaid.
Please note: No further details about these cases and the victims are being issued by the police in order to protect the victims’ anonymity
If you are a victim
If you are a victim of romance fraud, or suspect you are dealing with a fraudster, report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre by calling 0300 123 2040 or by visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk
It's not nice having to report such things, but by doing so you will be helping the police catch the offenders and saving others from falling into the same traps.