Fall for the person, not the profile - that's the message from police forces across the country today as a new campaign is launched to tackle romance fraud.
South Yorkshire Police is supporting the national drive to raise awareness of romance fraud and provide clear advice to the public, following a 26 per cent rise in reports to Action Fraud nationally in the last year.
Romance fraud occurs when you think you've met the perfect partner online - but they are in fact using a fake profile to form a relationship with you. They gain your trust over a number of weeks or months, and make you believe you are in a loving and caring relationship. However, the criminal’s end goal is only ever to get your money or personal information.
Action Fraud has received 97 reports of romance fraud from victims - both men and women - in South Yorkshire in the 12 months up to August 2020, with reported losses of more than £611,000. All age groups have been targeted in our area but the majority of victims are over 40 years old.
The top five platforms nationally where victims reported first interacting with the fraudster were Facebook, Plenty of Fish, Instagram, Tinder and Match.com.
SYP Fraud Protect Officer Andy Foster, from the force's Fraud Co-ordination Team, said: "Romance fraud is a particularly nasty crime which affects victims not only financially, but also emotionally. The impact upon a victim, and their family and loved ones, can be significant and long-lasting.
"In my role I have met dozens of victims of romance fraud to provide support, advice and information on how to prevent becoming a repeat victim of these cruel, heartless criminals. The victims I have spent time with are often in denial - they can't comprehend that their whole online relationship is a lie and the person at the other end of the internet is nothing more than a scammer wanting money."
During June, July and August 2020, Action Fraud received 30 reports of romance fraud from victims in South Yorkshire, indicating people may have met, and begun talking to, romance fraudsters during the national lockdown caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
Andy added: "The victims of romance fraud can often be older people, who are more likely to be shielding or spending less time with loved ones during the pandemic. They may therefore welcome the thought of companionship and love from someone online.
"For these shameless criminals to exploit those who have been left particularly vulnerable during the coronavirus outbreak is simply horrendous. It makes it even more important to spread the word about romance fraud, and empower potential victims and their loved ones with the knowledge of how to spot the signs."
The multi-agency national campaign, co-ordinated by City of London Police, will run throughout October.
Spot the signs
- You strike up a relationship with someone online and they declare their love for you quickly. They may even talk of marriage.
- They claim to be overseas because they work in the military or medical profession, or are carrying out important charity work.
- They constantly make up excuses about why they can't video chat or meet in person, and then try to move the conversation away from the platform you met on.
- They ask for money from you for a critical emergency. The reason will be something emotive - for example needing funds to pay for medical treatment for their adopted child.
- They tell you to keep your relationship private and insist you don’t discuss anything with your friends and family.
- Avoid giving away too many personal details to someone you've never met in person, as it can lead to your identity being stolen.
- Stay on the site's messaging service until you meet in person. Criminals are keen to move to other platforms that are less regulated and have better encryption, so there's no evidence of them asking you for money.
- Most online platforms have a reporting tool which you can use if you suspect someone online isn't who they say they are. Reporting their profile means it can be blocked, which helps protect others.
- NEVER send money to someone you haven't met in person. Do not allow them access to your bank account, transfer money on their behalf, take out a loan for them, invest your own money on their advice, buy and send the codes on gift cards from Amazon or iTunes, or agree to receive/send parcels on their behalf.
- If you think you have been a victim of romance fraud, report it to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or online at actionfraud.police.uk.
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