Looking for love? Beware online dating scams
Thousands of us visit online dating websites every year, hoping to find a companion or even a soulmate. But today, on Valentine’s Day (Saturday 14 February 2015), Shropshire Council’s public protection team wants to warn you that criminals use these sites too, looking to turn the lonely and vulnerable into ‘fast money’ through a variety of scams.
These criminals — who also troll social media sites and chatrooms in search of romantic victims — usually claim to be Brits or Americans travelling or working abroad. In reality, they often live overseas. Their most common targets are women over 40, who are divorced, widowed, and/or with a disability, but every age group and demographic is at risk.
Here’s how the scam usually works. You’re contacted online by someone who appears interested in you. He or she may have a profile you can read or a picture that is emailed to you. For weeks, even months, you may chat back and forth with one another, forming a connection. You may even be sent flowers or other gifts. But ultimately, it’s going to happen — your new-found ‘friend’ is going to ask you for money.
So you send money: but rest assured the requests won’t stop there. There will be more hardships that only you can help alleviate with your financial gifts. He may also send you cheques to cash since he’s out of the country and can’t cash them himself, or he may ask you to forward him a package.
So what really happened? You were targeted by criminals, probably based on personal information you uploaded on dating or social media sites. The pictures you were sent were most likely phony, lifted from other websites. The profiles were fake as well, carefully crafted to match your interests.
In addition to losing your money to someone who had no intention of ever visiting you, you may also have unknowingly taken part in a money laundering scheme by cashing fake cheques and sending the money overseas, and by shipping stolen merchandise (the forwarded package).
Steve Charmley, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member responsible for public protection, said:
“We strongly recommend that, if you think you’ve been victimised by a dating scam or any other online scam, file a complaint with the national fraud and Internet crime reporting centre, Action Fraud: www.actionfraud.police.uk.”
Here are some tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of an online dating scam.
Recognizing an online dating scam artist
Your online ‘date’ may only be interested in your money if he or she:
- Presses you to leave the dating website you met through, and to communicate using personal email or instant messaging
- Professes instant feelings of love
- Sends you a photograph of himself or herself that looks like something from a glamour magazine
- Claims to be from the UK and is travelling or working overseas
- Makes plans to visit you, but is then unable to do so because of a tragic event
- Asks for money for a variety of reasons (travel, medical emergencies, hotel bills, hospitals bills for a child or other relative, visas or other official documents, losses from a financial setback or crime victimisation).