14th February 2024
The dangers of romance fraud: Don't let catfishing ruin your life.
The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) reported 8,036 cases of romance fraud amounting to over £92m lost in 2023, with an average loss per victim of £11,500.
What is romance fraud?
Romance Fraud is a type of scam that uses social engineering techniques to obtain sensitive or financial information that can be used to manipulate, blackmail and defraud victims, usually for financial gain, illegitimate services or personal information.
Fake social media accounts are used to target victims, developing deep emotional relationships with them to gain trust. Scammers will spend time researching their targets; learning their likes and dislikes, passions and weaknesses to use the information to develop a bond and make you believe there is a genuine connection between you.
Emotional blackmail, gaslighting and isolation tactics are used to create toxic emotional ties.
These kinds of fraudsters are experts at impersonating people and will go to extreme lengths to groom their targets. Using fake personas, falsified documents and fabricated storylines that build a narrative to suit their agenda.
Once the belief of a real relationship is in place, scammers will use coercive behaviour to isolate and manipulate their victims into getting what they want. Perhaps a time-sensitive emergency, or the need to pay off a debt for a close relative. If a target doesn’t immediately agree to pay, the scammer will use emotional blackmail or gaslighting tactics to pressure the target into paying.
The Stark truth about Sextortion
The modern dating scene can be a minefield – Across image centric social media and dating platforms like Snapchat, Instagram and Tinder, we’re encouraged to share more of ourselves online than ever before, and most have been tempted into exchanging flirty messages or saucy snaps in the pursuit of a romantic connection... But what happens if those saucy snaps end up in the wrong hands?
The first 6 months of 2023 saw a 257% rise in child Sextortion cases in comparison to the whole of 2022. ~ The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF)
Sextortion is a particularly vicious form of blackmail involving the threat of having sexual or explicit content released to the public unless you pay. The scam relies on the victim feeling shame and vulnerability in this kind of situation, and the scammer will do everything in their power to make you believe you are helpless and isolated in an attempt to scare you into paying.
Statistics provided by The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) have revealed teenage boys aged 14-17 are at particular risk of being targeted, with 75 out of the 191 cases reported in the first half of 2023 confirmed as child sexual abuse material. A 257% increase compared to the 21 cases reported through the entirety of 2022.
How to spot it
Romance fraud can happen to anyone. Cyber criminals are experts at impersonating people and exploiting perceived weaknesses. Though not a guaranteed safeguard there are some tell-tale signs to watch out for when making connections online:
Love at First Sight – We all want to believe in good old fashioned romance, but we urge you to be cautious if an online connection starts declaring their love for you fairly early in the relationship.
“I’m travelling for work” – Many scammers will claim to be overseas for business, or work in the military as a reason not to meet you in person.
Poor Connection – listen out for excuses as to why they can’t video chat – or trying to move your conversation off the platform you met on.
Picture Perfect – Too few or too “perfect” profile pictures are a red flag to look out for. If you suspect the profile might not be all that it seems try a reverse image search to find if the photos have been used somewhere else – (https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/1325808?hl=en )
Just the two of us – They may tell you to keep your relationship secret and not discuss it with friends/ family members.
Ticking clock – If/ when they ask for financial help, it will be a time sensitive matter of urgency, and the reason will be something that appeals to your compassion.
Gaslighting – Finally, if you decline financial aid or to send nudes, they’ll get defensive and persistent quickly. Applying emotional blackmail and gaslighting techniques to get what they want – “I thought you loved me” “why are you being weird about it?” “but we had something special”. Trying to guilt you into sending what they’ve asked for.
How to deal with it
If you suspect you are being targeted the National "Take Five" campaign has three simple steps to protect yourself:
STOP: Take a step back and think before parting with your money or information.
CHALLENGE: Are you sure this person is genuine? Could they be fake? It’s OK to refuse or ignore any requests that make you uncomfortable - particularly when it comes to your financial or personal details. Remember criminals will try to rush or panic you into making rash decisions.
PROTECT: If you think you’ve fallen for a scam you should contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud. If you’re in Scotland, you can report to Police Scotland by calling 101.
Are you a victim of romance fraud?
If you believe you have fallen victim to a scam, don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed - you are not alone.
If you are in Scotland, please report to Police Scotland directly by calling 101.
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