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One victim reports dating fraud every three hours according to the latest national figures from City of London Police

  • On average fraudsters ask their victims to transfer money within one month of first contact.

  • Almost half (45%) of victims indicated that dating fraud had a ‘significant’ impact on their health or financial wellbeing

  • The average amount lost by a dating fraud victim in the UK is £10,000

  • New multi-agency partnership created to work with the Online Dating Association to reduce the number of people who fall victim to dating fraud

Every day, seven reports of dating fraud are received by Action Fraud – on average one every three hours – an increase of 32% over a two year period (from January 2013-December 2015) according to new national figures released today by City of London Police (CoLP) (1).

In less than one month - 30 days - of contact, the average victim of dating fraud will make their first transfer of money to the fraudster, (2) demonstrating how quickly and easily these situations can escalate, and will lose £10,000. (3) On average it takes only nine more days before a report is made to Action Fraud about the fraudulent activity (4).

Between 2015 and 2016 nearly £40 million (5) was lost through dating fraud with 3,889 reports (6) made in total. However, evidence suggests that this doesn’t accurately represent the true scale of dating fraud due to the embarrassment felt by some victims of fraud which can discourage them from coming forward to report their experience. Almost half (45%) of victims who reported to Action Fraud said that the crime had a ‘significant’ impact on their health or financial wellbeing (7).

Victim Support (VS) and Age UK along with the City of London Police, London Metropolitan Police (FALCON) (8) and Get Safe Online will, in a first for the UK, all work in partnership with the Online Dating Association to better understand how fraudsters operate and how they can most effectively share safety messages to users of online dating sites and apps with the aim of reducing the number of people falling victim to fraud.

The partnership will bring together leaders from multiple sectors: technology; law enforcement and the charity sector, bringing expertise to the issue, and working together collaboratively for the first time. They will also widely publicise five #datesafe tips across their websites and social media platforms for users of dating sites and apps.

#datesafe tips

  1. Get to know the person, not the profile and ask plenty of questions - don’t rush into an online relationship.
  2. Check the person is genuine by putting their name, profile pictures or any repeatedly used phrases and the term ‘dating scam’ into your search engine.
  3. Talk to your friends and family about your dating choices. Be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them.
  4. Never send money to someone you’ve met online, no matter what reason they give or how long you've been speaking to them.
  5. Don’t move the conversation off the dating site messenger until you’re confident the person is who they say they are.

Neil Masters, National Fraud and Cyber Crime Lead at the independent charity Victim Support, said: “Dating fraud can shatter people’s lives both financially and emotionally and we know that losing what felt like a trusting and very real relationship is often what is most difficult to come to terms with.

“We want to encourage anyone who may have been affected by this to seek help. People shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed if they have been tricked in this way.

“We offer free and confidential support to help people move on with their lives, regardless of whether or not what’s happened is reported to the police.”

Commander Chris Greany, City of London Police and National Co-ordinator for Economic Crime said: “The growth in online dating has led to a rise in organised criminals targeting people looking for love.

“These crimes destroy lives and the emotional damage often far outweighs the financial loss.

“Never give money to people you meet online, no matter what emotional sob story the person uses.”

Andrew McClelland CEO of the Online Dating Association said : “People spend much of their lives online, communicating and meeting new people via dating services or social networks. Fraudsters will normally try to move you away from the service as soon as they can, so we encourage users to continue communicating via the dating service which helps dating providers to detect fraudulent behaviour.

“Millions of people have found their partners through online dating but if you think you suspect fraudulent behaviour, please always report it to the dating provider as well as the Police; that way we can make it even safer for all users."

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director of Age UK said: “It’s really positive that older people are joining dating websites, but we would urge them to be aware of the real risks and take basic steps to stay safe online. Feelings of loneliness and a desire for companionship can increase an older person’s vulnerability to fraudsters which can end in financial loss, ill health and heartache.

“With a quarter of dating fraud victims in their 50s, it’s really important for older people to be aware of this kind of crime. Many of these fraudsters are highly sophisticated criminals so people mustn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about it happening to them. We would urge any older person who has, or may have been, a victim of romance fraud to speak to Action Fraud, a family member or friend.”

Tony Neate, CEO of Get Safe Online commented: "While we regularly hear good news stories about couples meeting online or via dating apps, these findings show there is an increasing problem with the number of cyber criminals out there who are looking to target vulnerable people for significant financial gain. £10k is a staggering amount for the average online dater to lose to a fraudster who they’ve been led to believe is the real deal. It’s not just the financial loss though; dating fraud can have a huge emotional impact on a victim too. We’ve spoken to people who’ve lost everything – their savings, their homes – and in many cases, it’s the whole family who suffers because of it.

“Anyone who has fallen in love knows how easy it is to get swept up in the romance of it all and let their heart rule their head, so we’re urging people to take a little caution when meeting someone new online. The best thing you can do to avoid being taken in by the wrong person is tell a close friend or family member before you get too involved so that they can support you and offer advice if you’re having doubts.

“We also encourage people to check our ‘date-safe tips’ before meeting a potential partner and take the time to find out if their match is genuine or not. If you’re meeting up with a date you’ve met online, always tell someone else where you are going. And don’t forget, it's very unlikely that anyone with good intentions would ask for money and if it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't."

Gary Miles Detective Chief Inspector at the Metropolitan Police – Op Falcon said : “The people who perpetrate this type of offence are ruthless, organised, committed and without conscience to the pain, embarrassment and financial loss they cause to their victims. Their methodology is sophisticated. This campaign is the beginning of a collaboration designed to prevent these type of offences from occurring, by raising awareness among the public and by identifying and targeting the key techniques that the suspects use. Please use the dating tips as it will help you to avoid becoming victim to these despicable criminals”.

Case Study

David (58) was using an online dating website and came across someone who he thought was an old friend. They got chatting and it wasn’t long before Kerry* had asked him to send £500 towards a plane ticket she needed to buy urgently (she didn’t specify details on where it was to). Unfortunately Kerry wasn’t who she said she was. She was in fact a fraudster who went to great lengths to deceive David; sending copies of immigration papers, passport and a plane ticket. David began to get suspicious after a few months so he asked her to prove who she was and she put someone on the phone who was meant to be her father, close friend and solicitor. The week Kerry was due to arrive in the UK David was really excited. He’d become very fond of her and would phone, text and email day and night. Kerry even called David from the airport to say she was on her way, but later that night he received a call from someone at immigration to say they had arrested someone pretending to be Kerry. They told David that Kerry would go to prison unless he sent more money for a document she urgently needed and while he wanted to help he just couldn’t. He told her he had already handed over his entire life savings (£15,000) and that he “wasn’t a millionaire”. After the breakdown of the relationship, David was absolutely distraught and felt very alone. He later found out from his bank that he was part of a much larger scam worth a total of £7 million pounds – with multiple victims and people pretending to be various individuals.

David says “I was devastated by what happened to me and it’s massively changed my life. I don’t feel like I can trust anyone anymore and I find it hard to meet any potential new partner. It’s taken some time to resolve my financial situation too as that was a large portion of my savings. Without Victim Support I don’t think I’d be here now.”

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