Online dating has surged in popularity in recent years, helping many people find the perfect partner. But the search for romance is not without its risks, and it’s not just a broken heart you could end up with if it all goes wrong.
A joint awareness-raising drive using the hashtag #datesafe has been launched to offer tips on how to avoid dating fraud. Victim Support, Age UK, police bodies and the Online Dating Association are among those behind the initiative.
Around seven reports of dating fraud are received on average every day by Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre.
This type of fraud is particularly cruel, as often victims believe they have built up a close relationship with the person who has conned them.
Across 2016, nearly £40 million was lost through dating fraud, with the average victim losing £10,000. This could be the tip of the iceberg as many victims are thought to be too embarrassed to report incidents.
The average dating fraud victim is 49 years old and around 61 per cent are women. But there are cases of older people defrauding the young and vice-versa.
People may lose their money quickly as they are swept up in what they think is the start of a romantic relationship. It typically takes just 30 days from the first date of contact for the victim to make a payment to the fraudster.
The “relationship” may not just exist online as some victims have met the fraudster face-to-face.
Cases aren’t always a “one-to-one” crime, with evidence of larger gangs being involved. There may be several fraudsters carrying out different roles – such as organising the gang or meeting the victim.
Details of genuine companies that have gone out of business may be used by fraudsters to convince victims their “sob story” is true. Fraudsters may also carry out research into their victims in an attempt to build a rapport with them, looking up information about them online.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, says anyone who has or may have been a victim of romance fraud should speak to Action Fraud, a family member or a friend.
She says: “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.”
So what are the potential warning signs of dating fraud?
Here are some tips from the Online Dating Association.
Sudden declarations of love may sound nice, but other motives could be there. Use common sense and consider speaking to a friend to get a second opinion.
If the person seems vague, tries to take the conversation offline, has an unlikely story or acts inappropriately, proceed with caution.
Do not respond to requests for money and do not give out your bank or other personal details. Some scammers try to gain sympathy with emotional stories of ill relatives, financial difficulties, urgent job opportunities or travel needs.
Beware of anyone offering you ways to “get rich quick” by putting your money into investment schemes.