Fraudsters have been targeting vulnerable and elderly residents ahead of Valentines Day, with a few reported cases these past few weeks.
Romance fraudsters often join online chats, or group forums targetted at our older communities. Unlike other fraudsters they do not initially ask the victims for money; instead they spend time communicating with them online and building trust with their victim before asking for money.
By the time they ask for large sums of money, the reasons for requiring financial assistance have a greater plausibility; this is known as the ‘grooming period’.
Romance fraud is one of the fastest growing crime types affecting the vulnerable, so much so that in Sussex all victims of romance fraud are treated as vulnerable by crime type.
Look out for the signs yourself, or signs that loved ones around you could be falling victim to a romance fraud by following our DATES guide designed to help keep you and your loved ones safe from romance fraud scammers.
Don’t rush into an online relationship – get to know the person, not the profile: ask plenty of questions, don’t worry about revisiting questions later on to double check their story.
Analyse their profile – confirm the person’s identity. 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.
Talk to your friends and family – Don’t be embarrassed to speak to those closest to you, and always be wary of anyone online who tells you not to tell other people about them.
Evade scams – never send money or share your bank details with someone you’ve only met online, no matter what reason they give or how long you’ve been speaking to them, the grooming period may last a while before the fraudster will ask for money. Often it will be they are in hospital and need help, or live abroad and need the money to come over and be with you.
Stay on the dating site messenger service – these are often secure chat rooms – don’t use email, phone, social media or other messaging apps until you’re confident the person is who they say they are. If you plan to meet someone from a dating website, or forum, always tell someone and have someone go with you.
More signs to spot:
Be wary of giving out personal information on a website or chatroom. Fraudsters will quickly contact you, often showing you glamorous photos of themselves and gaining your trust.
A fraudster will make conversation more personal to get information out of you, but won’t tell you much about themselves that you can check or verify.
Romance fraudsters often claim to have high ranking roles that keep them away from home for a long time. This could be a ploy to deter your suspicions around not meeting in person.
Fraudsters will usually attempt to steer you away from chatting on a legitimate dating site that can be monitored. Stay on the platform that you started using initially, rather than switching to email, text or phone.
A fraudster may tell stories to target your emotions and get you to give them money. They may claim they have an ill relative or are stranded in a country they don’t want to be in. They may not ask you directly for money, hoping instead that you’ll offer it out of the goodness of your heart. Do not do this.
Sometimes the fraudsters will send the victim valuable items such as laptops, computers and mobile phones, asking them to resend them elsewhere. They will invent a reason as to why they need the goods sent, but this may just be a way for them to cover up their criminal activity. Alternatively they may ask a victim to buy the goods themselves and send them elsewhere.
Often, they will ask victims to accept money into their bank account and then transfer it to someone else using bank accounts, MoneyGram, Western Union, iTunes vouchers or other gift cards. These scenarios are very likely to be forms of money laundering and you could be committing a criminal offence.