Staffordshire Police issue romance fraud warning to online daters in the run up to Valentine's Day
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Staffordshire Police is issuing advice to help people looking for love this Valentine’s Day avoid becoming a victim of online fraudsters.
Romance fraud happens when someone believes they have met their perfect match through a website or app, but the other person is in fact a scammer using a fake profile to build a relationship and gain trust. They eventually ask for money, or work to obtain enough personal details to steal your identity.
In a recent report made to Staffordshire Police, a man had sent a substantial amount of money to a woman he had never met, after she claimed she needed help with medical bills and to pay for flights to come and see him. He had been in contact with her via WhatsApp for several years, and even travelled from Stafford to the airport on three occasions to collect her, but she always made elaborate excuses for why she wasn’t there. She gained his trust and he believed that they were in a loving relationship.
Similarly, a woman from Cannock formed a relationship with a man over several months through chatting on WhatsApp, after first connecting on an online dating site. He claimed to be in the army and based overseas, and asked her to send money across so that he could retire early, and fly to the UK to be with her. He told lie after lie, including that he would be travelling by private jet, and went on to persuade her to purchase iTunes vouchers and give him the codes, take out loans with the bank, and even try to sell her home in order to send payment over. The victim had a supportive family, who were trying to help, but he had manipulated her to only trust him and tried to isolate her from her loved ones.
A man, who lived near to Sutton Coldfield, was also duped into moving from a dating app to another messenger app called KIK, where the woman he was chatting to expressed an interest to meet up. Before they could, he asked him to purchase ‘steam’ gift cards and share the codes, but thankfully he recognised this was a scam after seeing online articles with similar stories. He told the scammer that he had purchased the cards (although he hadn’t) and they persisted in asking for photos of the serial numbers. He refused and said that he was going to report it to the police, they then made unsubstantiated threats towards him.
Detective Constable Kelly Harvey, from the Fraud and Financial Investigation Unit, said: “The majority of accounts on dating websites are genuine people looking for romance, but fraudsters may try to contact you by making fake profiles, getting in touch and building what feels like a loving relationship.
“It’s really important that we educate people around the dangers of dating fraud, unfortunately, there are very convincing and deceitful people out there who will take advantage of vulnerable of people to steal their money.
“As you can see from the recent cases mentioned, the fraudsters tend to use similar tactics, so it important to familiarise yourself with these types of scams and be vigilant.
“I’d also urge everyone to take a moment to talk to any vulnerable friends or family about these types of scam to help ensure that nobody else falls victim.”
How to protect yourself against this type of scam:
-If you’re using social media sites, don’t accept friend or follow requests from people you don’t know.
-Don’t give away too many personal details about yourself online.
-Never send or receive money / voucher codes or give your bank details to someone you’ve met online.
-Use reputable dating sites and keep communicating through their messaging service rather than text/telephone or other apps.
Signs that something isn’t right:
-They’re asking a lot about you but revealing very little about themselves.
-Suddenly a reason appears for them to ask for your help, often financially. They may claim they have an ill relative or are stranded in a country they don’t want to be in.
-Dating and romance scammers will often express strong emotions for you in a relatively short period of time and sometimes tell you to keep your online relationship a secret.
If you’ve fallen victim, don’t feel embarrassed or be afraid to talk about it. You can report it in confidence to the police, or contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.