Police repatriate romance fraud victims with £115,000 through international partnership with Ghanaian authorities
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Police forces across the country have been working together to tackle romance fraud, through a combination of awareness raising and enforcement activity, co-ordinated by the City of London Police.
The campaign, which launched on Thursday 8 October, follows a 26 percent rise in reports of romance fraud to Action Fraud in the last year.
Operational activity conducted by the City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), key stakeholders and police forces in the UK, has directly led to the identification of 38 victims of romance fraud who had not previously reported the crime to Action Fraud. A number of these victims are believed to have still been in contact with suspects online and weren’t yet aware they were victims of a romance fraud. Those identified are now receiving support from their local police force and a number of their cases have been prioritised for investigation. One such case has already led to two arrests in the East of England by officers from the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU) who were able to recover a number of live devices during the arrests. From these devices, work is underway to identify linked bank accounts suspected of being in receipt of money taken from romance victims. Once identified, these accounts will be subject to freezing orders, preventing the suspects from accessing the money.
A number of other offences have also been progressed, with significant activity in South Wales, Devon and Cornwall, Kent, Thames Valley, North Wales, Hampshire, Lincolnshire, Bedfordshire, GMP, MPS and Surrey. This has led to four arrests and a number of other suspects being warned to attend a police station for interview. In one case, a suspect was arrested within an hour of identification and has since been returned to prison.
The Irish Garda National Economic Crime Bureau have also made arrests in relation to an organised crime group based in Ireland but with links to Nigeria and Dubai, who were targeting Irish and British victims. The City of London Police and the Irish Garda continue to co-operate in this investigation.
A key feature of this campaign was to target criminals overseas suspected of committing romance fraud against UK victims. This follows the creation of partnerships between the City of London Police, the National Crime Agency (NCA) and their counterparts in Ghana. Via the City of London Police’s NFIB, UK forces are now able to send intelligence referrals to the Ghanaian authorities where they have identified suspects based in Ghana or with a link to the country. This new relationship between Ghanaian authorities and the City of London Police has led to £115,000 being repatriated to UK victims of romance fraud and two active investigations being launched in Ghana into suspects thought to be defrauding victims in the UK.
Commissioner Ian Dyson, from the City of London Police, said: “As this campaign shows, when policing across the UK focuses resources and attention on fraud, the response is incredibly effective. Romance fraud is an abhorrent crime that causes its victims devastation, both emotionally and financially. The importance of raising awareness through campaigns like this, and protecting people from becoming victims in the first place, cannot be underestimated.
“At the City of London Police, we work tirelessly to bring together partners in law enforcement in the UK and overseas, and financial institutions, to tackle fraud at its root, make arrests, repatriate funds, and protect victims, even when they are unaware that they are being defrauded.”
Spot the signs
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.)
Graeme Biggar, Director General of the National Economic Crime Centre (NECC) at the NCA, said:
“These fraudsters are organised and can be very convincing. They will have done their research and go to great lengths to tailor their approach and target victims. Romance fraud is a psychologically and financially devastating crime; those unfortunate to experience it are victims of grooming and exploitation.
“The NECC is working with domestic and international partners to target these criminals and bring justice to the victims of what is probably the most cruel all frauds.”