Be vigilant and cautious when online dating, this is the message from Gwent Police as figures show more than £451,000 was stolen from victims in Gwent last year through dating scams.
Gwent Police is supporting a national campaign from Action Fraud to raise awareness of the signs of romance fraud.
Romance fraud is most commonly an online fraud where scammers deceive their victims into false relationships with the aim of stealing their money or personal information.
Anna*, a woman in her 50s from Gwent, was recently defrauded out of almost £25,000 by a romance fraudster. She believed she was in a relationship with a man who was working abroad on a ship.
They initially met on a dating app and then started speaking on WhatsApp.
After some trust was gained, the fraudster stated he was struggling to access his own money and needed her to help him fly home to be with her.
The victim, believing he was struggling, sent various sums of money to him.
But each time there was a different excuse as to why he needed more money such as ‘it was not received’, ‘the price has increased’, ‘I need to send you a parcel, but you’ll have to pay for the postage.’
The victim was eventually stopped from sending money by her bank and her family were alerted.
PC Jeni Cavill, financial abuse safeguarding officer, said:
“This scam had a huge effect on the victim and her family, both financially and emotionally. Romance fraud is a particularly callous offence, involving exploitation of an individual’s emotional needs and caring qualities.
“Romance fraudsters will typically spend weeks to months gaining their victims’ trust, feeding them fabricated stories about who they are and their lives - and initially make no suggestion of any desire to ask for any money, so the victim may believe their new love interest is genuine.
“We want to encourage all those who think they’ve been a victim of romance fraud to not feel embarrassed or ashamed but to report it to us. We’re calling on family members and friends to talk to their relatives who may be online dating to help make them aware of the warning signs that they could be falling victim to fraud.”
If you think you have been a victim of a romance scam, do not feel ashamed or embarrassed - you are not alone.
Contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or to police on 101.
HOW TO SPOT A ROMANCE SCAM?
You’ve met someone online and they declare strong feelings for you after a few conversations
They suggest moving the conversation away from the dating website or social media to a more private channel such as email, phone or instant messaging
Their profile on the internet dating website or their Facebook page isn’t consistent with what they tell you
There are spelling and grammar mistakes, inconsistencies in their stories and they make claims such as their camera isn’t working
They refuse to Skype, or video call/meet you in person
Photos generally tend to be stolen from other people- a reverse google image search can sometimes be used to locate the picture online as it is usually used in multiple scams
You’re asked to send money to someone you have not met face-to-face, either through bank/money transfer or through the purchase of gift cards or presents such as phones and laptops. You may even be asked to provide them with access to your bank account or card
Upon questioning your friend or family member, they may become very secretive about their relationship or provide excuses for why their online partner has not video called or met them in person. They might become hostile or angry, and withdraw from conversation when you ask any questions about their partner.