Romance Fraud Is On The Rise
Research conducted by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau shows that in the UK, there were 3,889 victims of online dating fraud in 2019. They lost a combined total of £39 million. This figure rose by a worrying 20% in 2020.
Online dating fraud or "romance fraud," is quickly becoming one of the most popular scams worldwide. There are more than 350 incidents a month reported in the UK alone according to Action Fraud. And those are just the ones that get reported.
But why would someone prey on the emotions of innocent people and con them out of their hard-earned money? The short answer is because they can, they have no moral compass. They don’t care who they hurt or what kind of mess they leave behind, as long as they get the cash. Romance fraudsters are just like any other con artist, they want money but they don’t want to work for it.
How does a romance fraudster choose their victim?
Anyone can be a victim of romance fraud. But romance fraudsters look for specific qualities in their victims.
Their victim needs to look like they have money to spare. It doesn’t have to be millions for a fraudster to be interested. As long as it looks like you have the cash to splash. If they get the impression that every penny is spoken for, they’re unlikely to contact you.
If the pictures on your dating site profile are of you in high-end places then you’re more likely to be targeted.
Anyone of any gender can be a victim of romance fraud, but 63% of victims are women. That’s a pretty significant number. Middle-aged women are even more likely to be targeted because they’re more likely to be divorced which is a contributing factor towards vulnerability.
Vulnerable people who don’t feel attractive and don’t get much attention are the perfect targets. It’s hard to resist attention and flattery and people will often do anything to keep getting it. Including parting with their money.
A trusting nature is essential for a romance fraudster. Suspicious or cynical people are no good to them, they would be onto them too quickly. They need someone who thinks the best of people and doesn’t automatically assume the worst. They need to know that when they tell their lies, they will be believed.
How Does A Romance Fraudster Operate?
The romance fraudster will initiate contact with their victim and show a great deal of interest. They’ll give them attention, compliments, and make them feel good about themselves. There will be frequent phone calls or messages, innocent at first. They will probably tell you how much they miss you and love hearing your voice etc.
In a real relationship, it will take time to get to know each other, to develop feelings of attraction and love. Romance fraudsters don’t have time, they need money now so they’ll try to speed up the process. They’ll tell you they love you very quickly, probably within the first month of knowing you. It will come as a shock but they’ll give a speech about how they’ve “never felt like this about anyone before, it just seems right with you.” They have an arsenal of tricks to make you believe everything they say.
As I said it’s hard to resist all this attention and flattery, and that’s what they’re counting on. Because they’re about to ask you for money, it might not be much at first. Maybe a few hundred to start with. They’ll have an excuse as to why they don’t have the money, it’ll probably be very complicated and hard to prove. But there will be an excuse, each con is different so I can’t tell you what it will be. Just look out for inconsistencies in the stories they tell you. If you don’t give them the money, don’t expect to hear from them again.
If you give them the first lot of money, then they’ll ask you for more. The first amount was them testing the water to see how you responded. The next amount will be much bigger, and there’ll be another excuse for why they don’t have the money right now. If you resist the lies will come thick and fast, there may even be fake tears. They’re manipulating your emotions for one reason only and it’s not love.
Even if you say you don’t have it, they’ll ask you to find it from somewhere. They might ask you to borrow it, sell things, even remortgage your house for it.
If you still refuse then you can expect them to turn nasty. They’ll be hurtful, spiteful, and even threatening. They feel like they’ve wasted their time on you because you’re not the easy target they initially thought.
If you give them the money they might still contact you for more. It depends on how much they were hoping to get out of you and how easy it was. If it was easy to get the money from you then they’ll keep going until you have nothing left.
If you resisted or struggled but still paid then they might stop. If you struggled to get hold of the money it shows them that you don’t have as much as they thought.
What Can I Do If I've Been The Victim Of Romance Fraud?
Once contact stops then that’s it. You won’t hear from them again. They’ve taken everything they needed from you now they’ve moved onto the next person. It’s heartbreaking because you were convinced that they cared deeply for you and even loved you. To find out they didn’t and all they wanted was your money is devastating. They don’t just rob you of your cash, they rob you of your self-confidence and your trust in other people.
And they don’t give a damn. They couldn’t care less about how you’re feeling. They never loved you, they never found you attractive and they never even like you. It sounds brutal and like a mean thing to say, but it’s true. Some people still cling to the fact that the fraudster cared. And some people even kid themselves into thinking that something bad has happened to them, that’s why they’re not in contact.
If you’ve been the victim of romance fraud, you should contact the police. But don’t get your hopes up. The chances of the police actually catching them are slim to none. And even if they do catch them, you’re not going to get your money back.
This person has all your money, the police can’t or won’t help you and you don’t know who they are. So what can you do?
You can try to track them down yourself, it’s always worth a shot. But unless they’re a shoddy first-timer then I doubt you’ll have much luck. If you do find them then be careful. Never confront them alone, they could be incredibly dangerous. They’ll be backed into a corner and people can be unpredictable when that happens. Always put your safety first and ask yourself if confronting them is worth the danger.
So you’re left still not knowing who they are or where your money is. You also know that they’re unlikely to ever face justice for what they did to you. You’re furious, frustrated, and heartbroken, where are you supposed to turn?
There are forums dedicated to people who have fallen victim to romance fraudsters. They’re full of people who will offer you help and support without judgment. They’ve been through the same thing you have and want to help you get through it.
People who were victims of fraudsters often talk about how they feel stupid for believing them. You’re not stupid, this is what they do. They make you believe them, they convince you that everything they’ve said is true. It has nothing to do with your intelligence level, if it did then smart people wouldn’t be conned. It’s about your nature, your emotions, and how much you trust other people.
How Can I Stop It Happening? Or Happening Again?
If it’s happened to you before then your trust will be shattered and you may even become paranoid. That’s a normal reaction to an event like this, don’t beat yourself up for thinking people are garbage. But not everyone is out to steal your cash, sometimes people just think you’re attractive or interesting and want to get to know you.
There are signs that someone isn’t who they say they are. You missed them the first time, don’t miss them the second time. And if you’re fortunate enough to have never been conned, these are signs to look out for when you’re online dating.
Look at that person’s pictures, do they seem real? A quick Google image search will reveal everything. Upload them and spend a while looking through the results, see if they are associated with any different names. If they are then it’s a massive red flag. If you’re suspicious then ask them to send you another picture and gauge their reaction. An honest person understands what can happen with online dating so they wouldn’t be surprised or offended. A good tip is to ask them to send you a picture with something random, like a pen or a spoon. If they can’t do it or seem annoyed by the implication then steer clear.
This proves that the pictures are genuine, their intentions are another matter entirely.
Stop And Think
One of the most common cons in the UK is the MI5 con. The fraudster immediately discloses that they work for them. This makes everything so much more exciting, the person being conned thinks they’re dating a spy. It’s proven to be a successful con over and over again. But think about these things:
- Is this true or do I just want it to be true?
- Why are they telling me this?
- Should they be telling me this? (no, they should say they’re a civil servant, but that’s not as exciting as a spy!)
- How realistic is this?
People believe what they want to believe, and this is what a con artist is counting on. But taking a few minutes to stop and think could mean you don’t fall for their lies. Even if you have a tiny doubt in a distant corner of your mind, investigate it.
If it turns out to be true, great. But if it turns out to be a lie then you’ll have saved yourself some heartache.
Are They Too Full-On?
Is it too much too soon? Are they making grand plans even though you’ve never met? Have they told you they love you when you’ve only ever messaged each other? You can love someone you’ve never met, it is possible. But professing love quickly is a romance fraudster’s M.O.
Why Are They Asking You For Money?
Think about the last time you asked to borrow money from someone? Didn’t it make you feel weird and awkward? It probably took you a while to work up to it. And it will almost certainly have been someone that you know well. Not a virtual stranger you’ve never met.
Tips For Staying Safe Online
- Never send money to someone you’ve never met.
- Don’t get sucked in by a sob story. It’s sad, but it’s not your problem.
- If someone talks a lot about money, walk away.
- Don’t listen to your gut or your heart, listen to your brain.
- If someone sounds too good to be true then they probably are
- If something doesn’t feel right, talk to a friend or family member. See what they think about the situation.
- Stay in the chatroom of the dating app or site. It’s moderated and it will be easier for admin to act if they can see what’s being said. They have no jurisdiction outside of the app.
Get Help And Support
Being conned can ruin your self-confidence and your trust in people. It has far-reaching consequences so you should try to find all the help you can. Reach out for support and people will be there for you.
Don't try to deal with it by yourself, the anger and frustration can ruin your whole life.
Elaine Lieberman (author) from Warrington on May 14, 2021:
Thanks for the comment dashingscorpio, much appreciated. I certainly agree with what you said about not telling your family. I think if you're reluctant to tell them it's because deep down you know something's not right.
dashingscorpio from Chicago on May 13, 2021:
Each of us (chooses) our own friends, lovers, and spouse.
It's important to have your own mate selection screening process and "must haves list" for choosing a mate. Forget about "follow your heart" as a dating philosophy. Allow people to (earn) your trust. Nothing happens until (you) say "yes" to someone.
If something doesn't feel right to you it's probably not right for you.
Chances are if you wouldn't tell you family or best friends about what you're contemplating doing it's because you know it's "questionable".
If you're dealing with someone online probably one of the best things you can do is avoid all long-distance connections.
Most romantic frauds these days involve a scenario where the two people have an "obstacle" that keeps them from seeing and being with each other. Real life is no "fairytale".
Don't try to make it so. Remove your "rose tinted" glasses!
This is also a popular device used in romance novels and Hollywood movies. "They love each other but can't be together because..." People love to "romanticize" obstacles!
If you feel the need to pay for friendship that's what therapists are for. Your insurance may even cover it.
Never separate your mind from your heart when making relationship decisions. The purpose of the mind is to protect the heart.