While the majority of accounts on dating websites are genuine people looking for romance, some will be fraudsters hoping to lure victims in with fake profiles.
“Fraudsters know only too well the lengths people will go to in the search for love or friendship, which is why this huge problem continues to grow," said Rebecca Jones, Fraud Safeguarding Officer.
After establishing contact, these criminals will often try to encourage users away from a trusted website onto social media or other messaging platforms, where they can gain further personal information which can be used to steal someone’s identity.
They may prey on people’s generosity or sympathy, saying they have had money stolen, need help paying for transport or a relative’s medical bills, or need a ‘loan’ to cover them until payday.
Some victims may even end up committing crimes without realising it, as so-called ‘money mules’.
“If someone asks you to receive money into your bank account and transfer it into another account or send it on using cryptocurrency or money service bureaus, you are now involved in money laundering - which is a crime,” said Rebecca.
The sensitive nature of romance fraud means it continues to be severely under-reported.
“People feel ashamed about being tricked, often after having opened up about their desires or private feelings,” she said.
“This is not just about losing money: romance fraud can have a lasting impact on victims’ physical and mental wellbeing, their existing relationships with friends and family, and their ability to trust future potential partners.
“But there is no need to feel embarrassed - these people are professional criminals who deliberately target those seeking a genuine loving relationship.
“We would urge anyone who has concerns about an online relationship, no matter how established, to get in touch.
“This includes family or friends who are concerned about the actions of a loved one.
“It is vital everyone knows the warning signs so they can protect their personal data, their money and their hearts.
“By reporting your suspicions you could help protect yourself or someone else from becoming a victim.”
Visit bit.ly/DPPReportOnline, email email@example.com, call 101, or get in touch anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired you can text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.
Tips to protect yourself:
- Be cautious when sharing personal details with potential dates: revealing your full name, date of birth and home address could lead to your identity being stolen.
- Pick a reputable dating website and use the site’s messaging service. Fraudsters will try to convince you to quickly switch to social media or texting so there’s no evidence of them asking you for money.
- Never send or receive money or give away your bank details to someone you’ve only met online, no matter how much you trust them or believe their story.
Tips to protect a loved one:
- Ask questions about your loved one’s new relationship: does it sound like both people are sharing the same kind of information at a similar pace?
- Ask if you can see their profile: does it look genuine? Do they have multiple photographs that are clearly of the same person? Do the photos look too posed, or is the person clearly a model?
- Don’t be afraid to share your suspicions with police. You are looking out for your friend or family member, and want to keep them safe. We can help.
Spot the signs:
- You’ve struck up a relationship with someone online; they’re asking a lot of personal questions about you, but they're not interested in telling you much about themselves.
- Fraudsters often claim that they have high ranking roles or busy, important jobs that keep them away from home for long periods of time. This is to avoid suspicion as to why they can’t meet in person.
- They invent a reason to ask for your help, using the emotional attachment you’ve built with them. Your relationship with them may often depend on you sending money.
- Their pictures are too perfect – they may have been stolen from an actor or model. A reverse image search can find photos that have been taken from somewhere else. Ask a tech-savvy friend or relative to help if unsure.