It's Valentine's Day, and love is all around.
But if you're currently single and looking to meet 'the one', be aware that, when it comes to online dating, not everyone is as nice as they may appear.
If you've watched The Tinder Swindler on Netflix, then you'll know that online scammers sometimes take advantage of people looking for love online. Catfishing – the act of setting up a false personal profile on a social networking site for fraudulent or deceptive purposes – is a common ploy they use. They then pretend to be romantically attracted to a victim by building up trust and then use manipulative and gaslighting tactics to demand money.
Many of us might be convinced that we could never fall for this type of scam but, sadly, it happens all too often, and victims are often scammed out of thousands of pounds.
Have you received an unexpected Facebook friend request?
In this digital age, scammers frequently use social media to target individuals, often using bogus photos and stories to lure them in. Examples include Facebook friend requests or messages from someone claiming to be a highly qualified professional, such as a lawyer, doctor, neurosurgeon, soldier, or even charity worker.
The fraudulent Facebook profile will show photos of the scammer in exotic locations, or helping others, but these photos have usually been copied from the internet and are not the person they claim to be. A reverse image search will often find where the image has been taken from.
From examples seen by the Jersey Consumer Council, profile names can often be a double Christian name such as David James, Paul Henry, or Mark Frances, although we’ve also seen examples that aren’t, such as one from a James Henderson.
These scams are often conducted over a long period of time, building up the victim's trust.
The scammer will often ‘live’ in a different country, explaining this is the reason they’re unable to visit, but promising to do so as soon as they can. They may promise lavish gifts and even offer to marry the victim, sending photos of the engagement ring they’ve apparently purchased.
Don’t be guilt-tripped into sending money
Though many people won’t even meet their scammer, they will frequently be willing to transfer them vast amounts of money in the hope of a relationship. In fact, Islanders have lost hundreds of thousands of pounds in the last few years.
Once the trust is built, the scammer will ask for cash, often making the victim feel guilty if they don’t send the money. It may start with relatively small requests, such as to:
- help pay for a hospital bill
- pay for a child’s education
- donate to a church fund
- buy an iPhone or iPad to help keep in touch
- pay for phone calls to keep in contact with you
- pay for a ticket to visit you.
Then the bigger payment requests start, and this is where many victims lose thousands of pounds. The scammer may request:
- money to put down a deposit on a house for you both
- money to help them pay a large building or legal invoice that, if unpaid, could mean they’ll be jailed.
How to protect yourself from falling victim to a romance scam
- Never send money to someone you haven’t met in person.
- Remain sceptical and, if any warning signs appear, try to remove emotion from your decision, even if your ‘partner’ appears sincere.
- Don’t feel guilty for refusing to make a payment and if they insist, stop all contact – they’re scamming you.
- Don’t give out personal information, especially account details.
- Do a reverse image search of your admirer’s photos. Often these romance scammers will steal other people’s photos, so these may be featured on a legitimate person’s social media. Go to Google and search ‘How to reverse image search’.
- Watch out for inconsistencies in their story and grammar.
- Be cautious about what photos or information you share with the person. They may use compromising photos or information as blackmailing material.
- If you arrange to meet them in person, inform friends and family of where you are going.
Remember, anyone of any age, gender or sexuality is a target for these scams:
If you’ve fallen victim to romance fraud or catfishing, report it to the States of Jersey Police straight away on 612612.
For more information, go to the Jersey Fraud Prevention website.