Beware the online dating scams: Love-sick Britons cheated out of 37bn by fraudsters
15:55 GMT, 29 March 2012
An estimated 230,000 people have been victimised by online romance scams
Hundreds of thousands of love-sick Britons
looking for romance have been scammed out of an estimated 37 billion
through dating sites by online fraudsters, according to research.
An estimated 230,000 emotionally vulnerable Brits have been groomed by conmen on dating sites in methods similar to paedophiles grooming children.
And with the rise in the number of sites, the numbers a likely to go up, according to researchers.
Scammers pretend to initiate a romantic relationship then swindle large sums of money out of their besotted victims over a period of a few months.
Professor Monica Whitty of Leicester University said: 'Scammers create a fake profile on dating sites and build up an intense relationship with their victim, grooming them before testing the waters to see of they can make some money out of the “relationship”.
'It’s almost paedophilic. They get into a close relationship, getting emotionally close to them and, like paedophiles do when grooming their victims, gain their trust before pouncing. The victims become reliant on this closeness and are often infatuated by scammers who create attractive profiles.
'The criminals tell them they love them and victims often haven’t had that experience before so they rely on them for happiness entirely.
Professor Whitty said they test to see of the victim is willing to give money to them, maybe suggesting they would like a small gift, or even sending the victim a gift to get them hooked on the relationship.
'This small gesture grows, with some asking for more expensive gifts like airplane tickets, with victims agreeing because online relationships are more intense and online daters often more strategic in what they say.
'We’ve heard a lot from people at airports saying they see these victims waiting for their lover to turn up, only to realise they are not coming.
'They will then make up an excuse for why they didn’t show up – car trouble getting to the airport for example – then still continue asking for money so they can try and visit again.'
And it is not just money that the scammers want – some of the victims are sexually abused and forced into stripping off on webcams because they are so terrified they will lose their lover.
The figures are extrapolated from a YouGov survey of 2,028 Britons who were questioned over a fortnight about their experiences with online dating frauds.
The results showed that men were just as vulnerable as women and fraudsters were also happy to target gays and lesbians.
Professor Whitty says that men, often living abroad, are usually behind the cons and they are happy to target any type of victim.
She added that the crimes are frequently not reported to police because of the shame of victims.
She said:'The victims often feel ashamed and do not know where to turn as police are sometimes not helpful and have never heard of crimes like these before.
'Police officers just dismiss people experiencing these crimes. They can deal with it but nothing seems to happen and victims give up.
'There are some organisations that specialise in these cases though – Action Fraud and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) – that are better at helping these victims as they know more about it.'
The victims often become attached to their online partners as well – meaning they get scammed again and again as they do not realise they are victims.
Professor Whitty explained: 'One woman had been a victim three times – all on different occasions – and lost between 50,0000 and 60,000.
'When she was told what had happened to her, she couldn’t understand why she was being called a victim.
'The victims are told they’ve been scammed, but found it very hard to break off the relationship. Even if the criminal admits to what he’s done, the victim still keeps in contact.'