AN increasing number of Scots are falling prey to “love scams” perpetrated on dating websites, a new report has revealed.
Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has warned that people are being tricked into sending large amounts of money to potential suitors they have met online – often to “help out” ill family members invented by the scammer, or to fund a fictitious trip to meet in person.
Scams centred on dating websites are the fastest-growing type of con, followed by those related to websites pretending to be official government sites.
“Cases can often involve playing on victims’ emotions and there has been a huge rise in recent years in online ‘romance scams’,” said the report.
“These types of scams often start through legitimate online dating websites or chat rooms and a ‘relationship’ is developed between the scammer and victim to build up trust. They can be extremely convincing and citizens advice bureaux see many cases from victims of this type of crime.”
Other types of scam reported to CAS include letters posted to victims who are told they have won a lottery or prize draw – but must send a small cash sum to release the winnings – as well as telephone scams and e-mails asking for victims to give away their bank details.
Overall, the number of people who contacted CAS about scams in the past year rose by 14 per cent, compared to the previous year.
An average of 30 Scots report a scam to the CAS consumer phoneline every working week.
Perth and Kinross is the “scam capital of Scotland”, with the percentage of calls from there standing at double the national average, while Inverclyde is the region with the fewest calls.
“It’s very sad there are so many people out there who are keen to exploit people’s trust and relieve us of our hard-earned money through deceit and trickery. But Scots seem to be fighting back,” said Susan McPhee, CAS’s head of policy.
“Our figures suggest scams are on the increase in Scotland, but also that people are getting better at reporting them. We are here to help anyone who has been ripped off by a scam, but also people should come forward and tell us about scams.
“We need to work together to raise awareness of fraud and stamp it out.”
One victim of a dating website scam was a man from the west of Scotland who met a woman via an agency. The woman claimed to live between Stockholm and America.
She asked the man to transfer £4,000 of his money to her bank account for her to pay for the costs of shipping gemstones to the UK. She then arranged for further large deposits of cash to be put in his bank account then transferred out again back to her. The age group most vulnerable to becoming repeat victims are 31 to 40-year-olds. However, up to 20 per cent of the population are believed to be particularly vulnerable to scammers, due to their age, a disability or a vulnerability such as living in fuel poverty, which might make them more likely to take up a fraudulent offer which appears to be a way of saving money.
Two-thirds of all e-mails sent are spam, CAS found, while one in every 350 messages received contains a virus.