Romance scams online hit hundreds of thousands of victims

Sep 27, 2011

New online research led by the University of Leicester reveals that over 200,000 people living in Britain may have fallen victim to online romance scams – far more than had been previously estimated. The study is believed to be the first formal academic analysis to measure the scale of this growing problem.

In the 'online romance scam' criminals set up fake identities using stolen photographs (often of models or army officers) and pretend to develop a romantic relationship with their victim. This is often done using online dating sites and social networking sites. At some point during the relationship they pretend to be in urgent need of money and ask for help. Many have been persuaded to part with large sums of money before their suspicions are aroused.

Researchers found that 52% of people surveyed online had heard of the online romance scam when it was explained to them, and that one in every 50 online adults (2%) know someone personally who had fallen victim to it.

This confirms the belief held by law enforcement agencies that this type of is often not reported by those affected, in many cases due to embarrassment at having been duped, or through a continuing hope that there will eventually be a genuine romance

The study led by Professor Monica Whitty, a psychologist and Professor of Contemporary Media at the University of Leicester, and Dr Tom Buchanan, a psychologist at the University of Westminster. It aimed to investigate the prevalence of victims in Great Britain and learn how widely the crime is known, as well as how people are learning about it.

Action Fraud, the national fraud reporting and advice centre run by the National Fraud Authority, identified 592 victims of this crime between 2010-11. Of these victims, 203 individuals lost over £5,000.

According to the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) romance fraud is organised crime, usually operating from outside the UK. Criminal groups make initial contact with potential victims through online dating sites and social networking sites, and will try to move the 'relationship' away from monitored online space before defrauding people of what can amount to large sums of money.

In some cases, even when victims cannot, or will not, send money, scammers involve them instead in money laundering by asking them to accept money into their bank accounts.

Investigations by SOCA have seen financial losses experienced by victims of online romance scams of between £50 and £240,000. Scammers' victims also suffer what is effectively a bereavement, from the loss of a relationship they believed to be genuine.

The researchers surveyed over 2,000 people through an online YouGov survey and estimated from the results that over two hundred thousand British citizens have fallen victim to the crime. They further estimate over 1 million people personally know someone who has been scammed.

Professor Whitty, said: "Our data suggests that the numbers of British victims of this relatively new crime is much higher than reported incidents would suggest. It also confirms law enforcement suspicions that this is an under-reported crime, and thus more serious than first thought.

"This is a concern not solely because people are losing large sums of money to these criminals, but also because of the psychological impact experienced by victims of this crime.

"It is our view that the trauma caused by this scam is worse than any other, because of the 'double hit' experienced by the victims – loss of monies and a 'romantic relationship'.

"It may well be that the shame and upset experienced by the victims deters them from reporting the crime. We thus believe new methods of reporting the crime are needed."

Professor Whitty added that the results of the research suggest warnings about the fraud are reaching about half of the British population: "This provides us with a marker for future research in preventive measures. It may well be, of course, that knowledge of the crime does not prevent it. However, it is important to compare knowledge of the crime and number of victims in future studies."

SOCA's Colin Woodcock, Senior Manager for Fraud Prevention, said:

"SOCA has worked hard to understand the nature of this crime and how it can be tackled, and this study provides further insights into the extent to which it is affecting people in the UK. The fact that 52% of respondents were aware of romance scams shows that progress has been made in raising awareness, but also that millions of people in the UK remain at risk of being successfully targeted by the crime groups committing this type of fraud.

"The perpetrators spend long periods of time grooming their victims, working out their vulnerabilities and when the time is right to ask for money. By being aware of how to stay safe online, members of the UK public can ensure they don't join those who have lost nearly every penny they had, been robbed of their self-respect, and in some cases, committed suicide after being exploited, relentlessly, by these criminals. It is crucial that nobody sends money to someone they meet online, and haven't got to know well and in person."

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User comments : 12

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Nanobanano
2 / 5 (4) Sep 27, 2011
I've seen it.

Obviously didn't "fall for it", but yes, this is definitely happening on ALL online dating services, including the most popular ones, and probably including the "christian" ones as well.

Personally, I believe the MAJORITY of "female" dating site accounts online are hoaxes, scams, or pranks of some sort.

I've encountered the scam SEVERAL times, and obviously not falling for it. Hopefully nobody does.

From what i can tell, a REAL person actually communicates with you, pretending to be a potential date, and they actually read and respond to your emails or other communication, just as you would expect a serious candidate to do.

This is actually so widespread that it leads me to believe the dating sites themselves serve as "legitimate" fronts for the illegal activity, and may even be owned and operated by the scam artists:

Match
Yahoo
Eharmony
Christian singles
Zoosk

All of them serve as little more than a "legal" front for illegal activity, i.e. scams
Nanobanano
2.7 / 5 (3) Sep 27, 2011
If they mention a business trip to a foreign country, or maybe even a remote location within your own country, or an accident, or a sick family member, etc, get ready...it's coming...

Fortunately, most of them are not very skilled at delivering the hook.

But I will say they also keep records of your conversation.

I encountered the same scammer, or else one of their immediate partners, on more than one occasion.

they also will "bait" you by using any information on your personal interests based on the first encounter to try to create new profiles to bait you back in again to what appears to be another person of your "type".

In short, they actually keep a database that they can search and sort for each person they are scamming in order to prepare further responses and scams, or to prepare new baits.

This is why I quit using dating sites.

With only two exceptions, EVERY person who ever responded to me online was a scammer. "One in five relationships is a CON GAME."
Nanobanano
2.6 / 5 (5) Sep 27, 2011
But yes, I'm not joking.

I would NOT be surprised if the dating site itself is owned by the scammers, again, even the "big" ones.

This is no different than the online poker scams, whereby the site operators were the ones rigging the games to scam players.

Or a shoplifter or mobster who owns a "legitimate" business as a cover or a fence for their stolen or illegal merchandise...

Same deal.

If I had any money, I'd be willing to bet that the owners of the sites really are one and the same as the scammers, at least in some cases.
Nanobanano
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 27, 2011
Basically, if it sounds too good to be true, it's too good to be true.

There aren't many (any?) single "tens", or even a "nine" in the world, and even if there are, it's unlikely they'd put a profile online, as they've probably got a list of a million guys waiting to date them at any time anyway.

But it's not just the tens, it could be anyone.

You could pick an ugly person and talk to them just for the hell of it, even if you aren't really interested, and they might be a scammer too...

This would be a legitimate reason for taxation of internet communication, if for no other reason than to help facilitate "tracking" of illegal activity.
Squirrel
5 / 5 (1) Sep 27, 2011
Ask the person to send a photo of themselves holding a printed copy of your posted profile, todays newspaper, or making a specific gesture such as holding up three fingers. A genuine person will be able to do this (auto timer or in mirror). A fake will not. State on your profile that you will only correspond will individuals able to verify themselves in this way.
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) Sep 27, 2011
Any idea is to where these people are from? Mexico perhaps?
scidog
not rated yet Sep 28, 2011
and thats just the romance scam,there must be a heap of others that those who were taken don't want to talk about and they all don't involve money.
kochevnik
not rated yet Sep 28, 2011
Many young women do this. The only difference is the lack of sex. Perhaps new net devices will allow a greater sensory experience and mitigate the grief of a sexless existence in the UK.
NotAsleep
1 / 5 (1) Sep 28, 2011
Nanobanano, why are you here? Why do you rant? This isn't a website for uninformed opinions and it's tiresome to scroll past your 3-4 paragraphs of garbage to get to comments I actually want to read. There's a character limit for a reason
Nanobanano
not rated yet Sep 28, 2011
Nanobanano, why are you here? Why do you rant? This isn't a website for uninformed opinions and it's tiresome to scroll past your 3-4 paragraphs of garbage to get to comments I actually want to read. There's a character limit for a reason


Yes, unfortunately some concepts and arguments do not fit in 1000 characters.

Any number of other posters have also complained about the character limit, because it ends up wasting more space than it saves in many, many discussions.
NANOBRAIN
not rated yet Sep 29, 2011
LONELINESS CAN MAKE ANYONE A TARGET FOR FRAUD.WE MUST STOP THESE SCUMS.
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) Sep 29, 2011
Nanobanano, why are you here? Why do you rant? This isn't a website for uninformed opinions and it's tiresome to scroll past your 3-4 paragraphs of garbage to get to comments I actually want to read. There's a character limit for a reason

Any idea why you 1rated me? i was just curious where most scammers come from.