Online dating – when romance turns sour

From Devon & Cornwall Police;

Romance fraud has risen 26% nationally in a year

Romance fraud, or dating fraud, occurs when you think you’ve met the perfect person online, but they are using a fake profile to form a relationship with you. They gain your trust over a number of weeks or months and have you believe you are in a loving and caring relationship. However, their end goal is only ever to get your money or personal information.

Between August 2019 and August 2020 Action Fraud received 190 reports for the Devon and Cornwall area from victims of romance fraud. The losses reported by the victims during this time came to £1.8m averaging just under £9,500 per victim.

During June, July and August, Action Fraud received more than 600 reports nationally per month of romance fraud. This indicated that people may have met, and begun talking to, romance fraudsters during the national lockdown caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Detective Inspector Julie Scoles has seen how much this type of fraud can impact on the victims.  She said: “Romance fraud is an incredibly distressing crime for the victim. Scammers usually target those who seem lonely and very slowly creep into the lives of those looking for love and companionship. They are very clever in how they operate; it is a sophisticated crime and almost anyone can become a victim. Making the victim feel safe and secure they will look for ways to get their money. Victims can often be left penniless and distraught with some scams lasting for months and sometimes years. These are without doubt one of the cruellest types of scams.

“The good news is, there are plenty of ways to protect yourself or friends or family members you may be concerned about. Firstly it’s important to remember that not everyone is who they say they are. Be cautious how much information you disclose about yourself online and no matter how long you’ve been speaking to someone online and how much you trust them, don’t send them any money or give them access to your bank account. If you are on a dating site, stay on the sites messaging system. Too often the criminal will want to switch to another platform that is less regulated. If someone asks for financial help, you should report them. Most online platforms have a reporting tool.”

Alison Hernandez, Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, said: “Online dating is a fantastic phenomenon in many ways, especially in these difficult times when it is hard to meet new people face to face.

“Unfortunately there are those who seek to exploit people who are looking for a relationship online, often with devastating effects. I would urge anyone embarking in an online relationship to learn from the experiences of others, to read the safety advice and to take sensible precautions.”

During October the City of London Police, the national lead force for fraud, will be co-ordinating enforcement activity across the UK and overseas to target and ultimately arrest criminals suspected of committing romance fraud.

The top five platforms where victims reported first interacting with the criminal committing romance fraud were Facebook, Plenty of Fish, Instagram, Tinder and As part of the campaign the Match Group, who own OK Cupid, Plenty of Fish, Tinder and, are running romance fraud protection adverts throughout October on these platforms, to inform their users how to spot the signs of a romance fraud and how to protect themselves online.

Spot the Signs

Spot the signs Protect yourself
You’ve struck up a relationship with someone online and they declare their love for you quite quickly. They may even talk of marriage or other relationship milestones such as buying a house together. Many romance fraudsters say they are based abroad so will claim a big step in your relationship will be them returning to the UK to be with you. They will claim to be overseas because they work in the military or medical profession, or they’re carrying out important charity work. This helps them paint a picture of themselves as being heroic, trustworthy and reliable, and also gives them an excuse for the use of international dialling codes or poor internet connection. Avoid giving away too many personal details when speaking online to someone you’ve never met in person, as it can lead to your identity being stolen. This includes revealing your full name, date of birth and home address – even if you’re doing it for what seems to be harmless reasons, such as your partner wants to send you flowers or a gift.
They constantly make up excuses why they can’t video chat or meet in person and they try and move your conversation off the platform that you met on. Stay on the site’s messaging service until you meet in person. Criminals want to quickly switch to other platforms that are less regulated and have better encryption, so there’s no evidence of them asking you for money. Whatever reason you’re given to move away from the site where you met, if the other person is genuine, they will accept your decision to stay on the platform until you see each other in person.
When they ask for your financial help, it will be for a time critical emergency. The reason will be something emotive, which pulls at your heartstrings. They’ll open up to you about a problem, or something that is worrying them to appear vulnerable and make you feel sorry for them.  They may get defensive if you decline to help or make you feel guilty and responsible for the urgent emergency they claim you could have averted. Most online platforms have a reporting tool which you can use if you suspect someone online is using pictures that don’t belong to them, you are suspicious of their behaviour, or they have asked you for money. Reporting their user profile means it can be blocked, which helps protect others.
They tell you to keep your relationship private and insist that you don’t discuss anything you talk about with your friends and family. This also includes the crisis they find themselves in that requires money. They will convince you this is part of the normal privacy that forms a healthy relationship. No matter how long you’ve been speaking to someone online and how much you trust them, if you haven’t met them in person do not:

  • send them any money
  • allow them access to your bank account
  • transfer money on their behalf
  • take a loan out for them
  • provide copies of your personal documents such as passports or driving licenses
  • invest your own money on their behalf or on their advice
  • purchase and send the codes on gift cards from Amazon or iTunes
  • Agree to receive and/or send parcels on their behalf (laptops, mobile phones etc

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