Romance fraudsters target people who use internet dating, social web sites and newspaper personals, says crime watchdog
The Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) has revealed that over 200,000 Britons may have been swindled by cyber thieves posing as potential partners on dating websites.
The BBC reported the study conducted by Soca and the universities of Leicester and Westminster. Soca warned in the report that online dating scams are growing and the crime watchdog has warned people to be careful of emails or messages that have romantic overtures in them.
Soca said that the study found that cyber criminals pose as would-be romantic partners on dating sites and dupe people after taking money from them. Such criminals have a fake online identity, found the study.
Soca said in a statement, "Fraud is not a victimless crime and romance fraud is just one example of how devastating fraud can be to men and women. Romance fraudsters target people who use internet dating, social web sites and newspaper personal columns. By feigning romantic interest romance fraudsters first secure their victims’ trust then exploit the relationship to steal personal information and money, leaving their victims financially and emotionally devastated."
The study found 2% of people surveyed personally knew someone who had experienced an online dating scam. The figure translates into over 200,000 potential victims of the total online UK population. Soca estimates that the number of unreported cases are likely to be far higher as individual losses range from £50 to £240,000. Moreover, such frauds mostly go unreported.
Leicester University psychologist and professor of contemporary media Monica Whitty said there could be many more victims in the survey as people often learn late that they have been duped in such scams.
"A lot of people find it very hard to accept what has happened, even if they know the person involved is now in jail," Whitty said.
Whitty added that targets were from both genders and all age groups."We’ve had male victims who still refer to the other person as ‘she’, even though they now know it was a man. In a few cases they’ve found the relationship so therapeutic they keep it going, even if they know they’ve been conned."
Colin Woodcock of Soca said that it is important for people to know about such scams.
"The perpetrators spend long periods of time grooming their victims, working out their vulnerabilities and when the time is right to ask for money," he said.
"By being aware of how to stay safe online, members of the UK public can ensure they don’t join those who have lost nearly every penny they had, been robbed of their self-respect, and in some cases, committed suicide after being exploited, relentlessly, by these criminals."