Romance fraud: fighting fauxmance with real partnerships

At the heart of a fraud is emotion. A fraudster succeeds by making their victim feel scared to lose or excited to gain something and as a result they become more vulnerable. So how can the police take action and intervene in such personal circumstances?

What is romance fraud?

In the case of romance fraud, a person thinks they have met the perfect partner through an online dating website, app, or via social media, but in fact a fraudster is typically using a fake profile to form a relationship with them. They will gain the person's trust and ask for money, or enough personal information to steal the victim's identity.

How big is the problem?

New statistics from the City of London Police's Action Fraud, the national fraud and cyber-crime reporting centre, reveal that many people across the UK continue to fall victim to this type of fraud, often with devastating consequences. In 2018, 4,555 reports of romance fraud were made to Action Fraud, with victims reporting to have lost over £50 million.

Money isn't everything

Not only are romance fraud victims losing vast amounts of money, the emotional impact this may have can be even more difficult to come to terms with. In a report produced by Action Fraud, 42 per cent of victims described falling victim to romance fraud as having a significant impact on their health or financial well-being.

In order to crack down on the problem, Action Fraud works with the Date Safe working group to raise awareness of the risks of romance fraud in the UK. The group's members include the City of London Police, Get Safe Online, the Metropolitan Police, Age UK, Victim Support, Scamalytics and the Online Dating Association (ODA). 

Partnering up with the Protocol

The financial loss of romance fraud, as with any fraud, can leave victims struggling to look after themselves. It is for this reason that the City of London Police is part of the Banking Protocol. Developed by UK Finance in partnership with National Trading Standards, the Protocol trains bank branch staff to spot when someone is about to fall victim to a fraud so they can try to prevent them from withdrawing cash to give to a fraudster. After this the staff can request an immediate police response to the branch to investigate the suspected fraud and catch those responsible. With £38 million worth of fraud being prevented in 2018 through this approach, it's essential that law enforcement continues to invest its time and expertise into this and similar private partnerships.

Looking to the future

Romance fraud thrives in the world of online dating. It's therefore important that we work closely with online dating service providers and messaging platforms to share intelligence on the latest threats.

Approximately a third of cases have materialised on other messaging platforms, with original contact having been initiated on a dating site. The fraudster will lure the victim away from the messaging platform on the dating site to other platforms, which are encrypted and therefore not regulated by the dating site providers.  It is on these alternative platforms that the fraudster will develop the relationship and entice the victim to part with funds. This makes it increasingly difficult for dating site providers to capture the information that we need. People should never send money to, or share their bank details with someone they?ve met online, no matter what reason they give or how long they've been speaking to them.

By keeping the conversation on the dating site, this allows us and the service providers to collect evidence more easily. We can then build a more accurate picture of the romance fraud landscape. This will ensure that online daters and the services they use are safer and regular protective messaging will increase awareness of dating fraud and what to look out for.

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