Calls to exercise caution on Valentine's Day go out as it emerges fraudsters strike up relationships to siphon funds from their bank accounts.
UK hotline, Action Fraud, says it receives a new report of dating fraud every three hours from victims.
The average victim will lose £10,000 within a month of making first contact as fraudsters ask for money transfers, which demonstrates how quickly and easily situations can escalate, said the fraud reporting centre.
The figures suggest a 32 per cent rise over a two year period (from January 2013-December 2015) according to new national tables released today by City of London Police.
On average it takes nine more days before a report is made to Action Fraud about the fraudulent activity.
Between 2015 and 2016 nearly £40 million was lost through dating fraud with 3,889 reports 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.
Almost half (45 per cent) of victims who reported to Action Fraud said that the crime had a ‘significant’ impact on their health or financial wellbeing.
Action Fraud is teaming up with Get Safe Online, Victim Support (VS), Age UK, City of London Police, London Metropolitan Police (FALCON) and the Online Dating Association to help online dating site and app users to stay safe.
Tony Neate, CEO of Get Safe Online, said: "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. 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."
The top five #DateSafe tips include:
- Get to know the person, not the profile and ask plenty of questions - don’t rush into an online relationship.
- 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.
- Talk to your friends and family about your dating choices. Be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them.
- Never send money to someone you’ve met online, no matter what reason they give or how long you've been speaking to them.
- Don’t move the conversation off the dating site messenger until you’re confident the person is who they say they are.
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 the person he though was his friend, Kerry, had asked him to send £500 towards a plane ticket she needed to buy urgently.
Kerry 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 - the pair had been phoning and texting 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 said: “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.”
If you, or anyone you know, have been affected by this fraud or any other scam, report it to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk.