Wary hearts: Romance fraud is (much) bigger than you think

Paul Cunningham (Flickr Creative Commons)
Paul Cunningham (Flickr Creative Commons)

This blog post was contributed by Phil Mawhinney, Policy Officer, at Age UK 

You probably know someone who found love through a dating website – perhaps you did yourself. But you may also have seen cases of people who thought they had met someone special online, only to lose thousands of pounds through fraud. You might think that this is a rare crime and, really, people should know better.

It might surprise you to learn that romance/dating fraud is a big and growing crime. One person who has fallen victim reports dating fraud every three hours, according to the latest figures from Action Fraud, the fraud reporting centre.

And this could be only the tip of the iceberg – we know many people are too embarrassed to report it.

This kind of fraud is often orchestrated by networks of criminals, often based overseas. They use sophisticated methods, investing time and resources in developing a ‘relationship’, building trust and emotionally manipulating people.

Fraudsters often seize on circumstances in a person’s life that can make them especially at risk. For example, they might see that the person has been divorced or bereaved and build that into their story to create a bond.

This means that when the fraud is eventually revealed, the person has not only lost a life-changing amount of money – the average loss is £10,000 – but they also feel the emotional blow of the loss of an intimate relationship. This often has serious consequences for their health.

More and more older people are using dating websites. The average age of romance fraud victims is around 50. A quarter of victims are in their 50s, with people in their 60s and older also affected. But it impacts everyone – younger people, and men and woman almost equally.

Dating websites can be a great way to meet someone and start a relationship. But we want everyone – including older people and first-time users – to use the internet safely. We’ve developed 5 #datesafe tips:

  1. Get to know the person, not the profile and ask plenty of questions – don’t rush into an online relationship.
  1. 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.
  1. Talk to your friends and family about your dating choices. Be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them.
  1. Never send money to someone you’ve met online, no matter what reason they give or how long you’ve been speaking to them.
  1. Don’t move the conversation off the dating site messenger until you’re confident the person is who they say they are.

So, don’t blame people who are unlucky enough to be targeted by fraudsters. One day it could your parents, your family or friends – or even you. Blame the fraudsters.

Reading our free information and advice to help you spot and avoid the latest scams targeting your money 

Author: Age UK

Age UK is dedicated to helping everyone make the most of later life. In the UK we help more than 7 million older people each year by providing advice, combating loneliness and enabling independence. Locally, we work as part of a network of independent charities which includes Age UK, Age Cymru, Age NI and Age Scotland and over 150 local Age UK partners in England and Wales.

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