Public encouraged to protect themselves online as reports of romance fraud rise 26% in a year

Romance Fraud Op Tonic

Wiltshire Police are joining police forces across the country, together with partners including Match Group, to tackle romance fraud by raising awareness and enforcement activity.

Romance, or dating fraud, occurs when a relationship is formed online, but the profile of the perfect partner you think you've met, is in fact fake. The scammer makes you believe you're in a loving relationship spanning weeks, or perhaps months to gain your trust. However, the end goal is always a much more sinister one, with criminals after money or personal information.

Between August 2019 and August 2020, Action Fraud received over 400 reports a month from victims of romance fraud in the UK. Losses reported by victims during this time totalled £66,335,239, equating to an average loss of just over £10,000 per victim.

During June, July and August 2020, romance fraud reports jumped to more than 600 per month, indicating people may have met, and begun talking to, romance fraudsters during the national lockdown caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

It has a devastating emotional and financial impact on the victim, who often feel foolish for falling for the lies once they realise what's happened. This no doubt has an impact on people deciding not to report such instances, but it's important to understand criminals are experts at impersonating people, they spend hours researching individuals for their scams. Once reported, victims could help protect others from a similar fate.

Wiltshire Police Fraud Manager, Alison Wiles commented "Those that use dating apps to target vulnerable people are particularly malicious. They use persuasive language to groom and control their victim, coercing them into parting with large sums of money or personal information. People often blame themselves, but it's an incredibly sophisticated crime and no one should feel ashamed to report it if they've fallen victim. It's important to get to know the person behind the profile and be aware of the signs to look out for.

"We've received 65 reports of romance fraud in Wiltshire over the 12 months leading up to August 2020, which is an increase of almost 7% over the last 6 months so less than the national average. Almost two thirds of victims are female, with the highest percentage being in the 40-49 age bracket.

"We want to encourage people to learn the steps you can take to prevent fraudsters and be aware of what action to take if you believe you might have come across one, or even fallen victim to them. We hope it'll not only protect you, but your money and personal information."

The dating apps themselves are running fraud protection advice throughout October to help raise awareness about the signs to look out for and are using more advanced technology to keep users safe and check profiles are genuine as well as introducing video functions. But there are simple steps you can take to help keep yourself safe and several warning signs to look out for:

·        If someone you're talking to declares their love quite quickly, with talk of making significant commitments like marriage or buying a house together, be wary and don't give away too many personal details.

·        They claim to work overseas, perhaps in the military or medical profession, often painting a picture of themselves as being heroic, but also gives a credible reason for an international dialling code or poor internet connection. A lot of fraudsters aren't based in the UK.

·        If they're reluctant to meet in person, or even video chat and quickly want to move off onto other messaging platforms, which have better encryption, meaning evidence of your chats is harder to find. Stay on the site's messaging service until you've met someone or you're sure they are who they say they are.

·        If they ask for financial help, it's likely to be for something urgent and emotive, to trick you into feeling sorry for them and want to help. If you're asked for money or are suspicious their photos aren't theirs, most platforms have a reporting tool - which will help to protect others.

·        They tell you to keep your relationship quiet and insist you don't tell your friends and family about them. This is because someone close to you is likely to question this person's motives, as they've not been emotionally involved. They're actually a good place to start if you're unsure of someone's motives and will give you their honest opinion, don't shut them out or isolate yourself.

The top five platforms where victims reported first interacting with the criminal committing romance fraud were Facebook, Plenty of Fish, Instagram, Tinder and Match.com.

Police and Crime Commissioner, Angus Macpherson concluded: "The internet is a fantastic way to meet new people and even form new relationships, but unfortunately there's an increased risk of being lured into a romance scam as they know how to take advantage of people's desire for human contact. These fraudsters have used the social restrictions during the pandemic as a 'hook' to extort money which is simply unacceptable."

If you know someone who is conning and defrauding someone for financial gain, please report them and help protect others falling foul of these calculating tricksters. Anonymously contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or at Crimestoppers-uk.org.

Alternatively, if you've been a victim, please report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, or via their website at https://www.actionfraud.police.uk.

Find out more at https://takefive-stopfraud.org.uk/.