A warning has been issued over romance fraudsters after a 68-year-old woman from north Wales fell victim to scammers.
Online dating is now the most common way to meet people, with many choosing to look for love using apps or social media.
But unfortunately, among the genuine profiles, there are fake profiles created by criminals whose intention is to manipulate, take advantage and trick people into handing over money.
These fake profiles are designed to appear attractive and use images stolen from the internet to disguise the scammer’s true identity.
This Valentine’s Day Police and Crime Commissioner Andy Dunbobbin and North Wales Police are residents to be on guard against romance fraud and to look out for criminals who might be more interested in swiping someone’s money than sweeping them off their feet.
It comes after a 68-year-old woman in north Wales fell victim to scammers.
Last summer the victim’s daughter contacted North Wales Police reporting that her mother had met someone online and that he had subsequently asked for money.
The informant suspected that the victim had already sent over £12,000.
When officers attended the woman’s address she explained that she had been in contact with a number of males who she had met online playing a game called Wordley.
One of the males sent her an image of an injured person in hospital, claiming it to be a picture of himself, and requesting money for hospital bills; while another told her that he had an inheritance owed to him by the Turkish government and the victim was asked to pay £20,000 in legal fees to release millions of dollars.
The most recent suspect, who claimed to work on an oil rig off the coast of Scotland, had been in contact with the victim for about a year and had requested money throughout that time.
He seemed to be aware of a previous financial loss the victim had suffered and offered to help her get her money back by putting her in touch with a friend in the FBI.
This led to the victim believing that he was genuine and would be able to help her. She sent money to the suspect to arrange transport off the rig so that they could meet, but the suspect had repeatedly cancelled for various reasons.
After initial contact with officers the victim refused to accept that she was a victim of fraud.
A Financial Abuse Safeguarding Officer was able to prove that the images she had been sent of the suspect, as well as various documents he had sent her, were fake and that the funds she had sent had been transferred out of the UK, making them impossible to recover.
Eventually the victim accepted that she had been the victim of fraud.
She was advised to cease contact with the suspects, to stop sending money and not to accept money from others she did not know.
DC Rachel Roberts, Financial Abuse Safeguarding Officer, North Wales Police, said: “Since the pandemic we have seen a significant rise in the number of romance frauds reported.
“It is believed that criminals who commit this type of fraud operate within organised crime groups and they are extremely convincing, using specific tactics they have developed over time to isolate and manipulate their victims.
“I speak with many victims who find it hard to accept that everything they have been told it a lie and this, coupled with a large financial loss, can be devastating.”
There are several warning signs that point to an online acquaintance being a fraudster.
Typically, a criminal will say they are abroad in a remote country, working on an oil rig, in the army or are in another line of work that makes it difficult for you to verify if what they are telling the victim is the truth.
They will be very flattering, attentive, speak of the relationship being romantic within a short period and message the victim frequently to build trust and an emotional attachment.
They may also suggest moving the conversation away from the official dating site or social media site to a more secure messaging service.
They may also be reluctant to take part in a video call or voice call and insist on the conversation taking place by message only.
The fraudster will begin asking for money to help with a fabricated issue they have and will manipulate the victim into feeling guilty if they do not comply with their request, using emotional blackmail and a sense of urgency.
The victim may also be asked to accept money into their bank account from another source to send to the suspect. In these circumstances the money is likely to have come from another victim of fraud and the victim is being used to launder money, which is a criminal offence.
PC Dewi Owen of North Wales Police’s Cybercrime Team, which forms part of North Wales Police’s Economic Crime Unit said: “If looking for love online beware of requests to move conversations away from the dating apps or websites onto more private channels such as email, text or instant messaging.
“Research the person you’re talking to as profile photos may not be genuine and be alert to inconsistencies in stories.
“You can check if the person you are talking to is really who they say they are by reverse image searching their profile picture, which is possible on the search bar of some image search engines.
“If you think a friend or family member has become a victim of romance fraud, speak to them about your concerns and encourage them to report the matter to Action Fraud and/or the Police. The victim can often be the last to realise what’s happening as romance fraudsters can be very convincing.”
Andy Dunbobbin, Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales, commented: “Online dating has become ever more popular in recent years and most of the time it’s harmless and good natured. But as well as the genuine romance seekers on these sites, there are also romance fraudsters who are heartlessly looking for their next victim.
“I am pleased to be working with North Wales Police’s Economic Crime Unit to make people aware of the dangers and to warn them to be on their guard against criminals who take advantage of vulnerable members of our community.
“A genuine love interest wouldn’t ask for money or pressurise you into doing something you are uneasy with.
“So stay safe online, ensure the person you are speaking to is actually who they say they are, and don’t fall prey to a romance trickster. Remember to always Stop, Challenge and Check!”
The Victim Help Centre, whose work is commissioned by the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner, can also provide support to people and look at ways at claiming back any lost money.
The staff at the centre understand the embarrassment and shame that victims feel after experiencing fraud. Some people blame themselves, but victims are not to blame.
If you’ve been affected by fraud in North Wales, call your local Victim Help Centre team on 0300 303 0159. Opening hours are: Monday to Friday 8.00am-8.00pm and Saturday 9.00am-5.00pm
If the fraud is in progress and there are suspects present report direct to North Wales Police on 101 or if it is an emergency dial 999.
Otherwise, you should report the matter to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or at www.actionfraud.police.uk. Action Fraud are the national reporting centre for fraud across England and Wales.