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North Wales residents urged to be on guard against romance fraud

Date

08 February 2024

Online dating is by far the most popular way to meet someone and the lead up to Valentine’s Day is a busy time of year for both new and experienced daters. However, this means that it’s also a very busy time for cybercriminals, posing as suitors to steal people’s money or identity, or both.

That’s why this month the Economic Crime Unit of North Wales Police, North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner, Andy Dunbobbin and the North Wales Victim Help centre are running a public awareness campaign with Get Safe Online to provide tips and advice for residents on dating safely online. Get Safe Online is a leading source of unbiased, factual and easy-to-understand information on online safety in the UK.

DC Rachel Roberts, Financial Abuse Safeguarding Officer in North Wales Police’s Economic Crime Unit commented: “Romance fraud is a particularly cruel and impactful crime, which leaves victims not only financially devastated but also emotionally distraught.

“In many cases victims are not asked outright to handover money, as most would instantly recognise this as a red flag. Instead, criminals will prey on the generous nature of their victims and create a fictitious situation where the victim feels the need to help by offering to send money.

“Often it is hard for victims to come to terms with the reality of the situation once they become aware that the person they trusted implicitly has lied and manipulated them. This then leads to victims feeling they are responsible for their loss and ashamed of their actions.

“Victims also feel they will be blamed by others for ‘falling’ for such a crime and labelled as foolish or gullible, but the truth is that many victims are groomed by sophisticated techniques over a significant period time by scammers. I would urge anyone who has been the victim of this type of fraud to report it and access the support that is available.”

North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner, Andy Dunbobbin, said: “One of the key priorities within my Police and Crime Plan for North Wales is supporting victims and communities and the approach to Valentine’s Day is a time when many people decide to search for new connections and, possibly, a new relationship. But while many people out there in the dating world are innocently looking for romance, some are searching for less positive reasons. I would urge all residents of North Wales to be on guard against romance fraud and to follow the advice of the police to keep themselves safe.”

Karen Walker, Fraud Caseworker, Victim Support advised: “The language and psychology that is used by scammers is often sophisticated and emotional manipulation feels very real for victims when they have simply looked for genuine friendship, companionship or romance. This type of fraud really does change lives and decreases trust in humankind. I hope people keep reporting and reaching out for support.”

Tony Neate, CEO at Get Safe Online added: “Online dating is a great way to meet new people – it’s convenient, provides lots of choice and is fun – but it’s always sensible to be cautious of potential threats. If you are online dating in North Wales, stay safe and read our top ten tips to avoid romance scams. And if you want to learn more about staying safe online, then take a browse on our website at getsafeonline.org”

Get Safe Online’s top ten tips for dating online:

  • Choose a reputable dating site or app and don’t be tempted away from its messaging service until you’re confident your date is who they say they are, and you completely trust them.
  • Minimise the chance of your account being hacked, by using secure and unique login details on dating sites and apps.
  • Check out the person, not the profile. Ask plenty of questions, think and act rationally and don’t rush into anything. This might help you avoid issues such as fraud, extortion or being used for sex.
  • Search matches by name, profile pictures or any repeatedly used phrases and the term ‘dating scam’, ‘romance scam’ or ‘catfish’. Do a reverse image search to check if the profile photo is genuine or of somebody else. Start by searching ‘Search with an image on Google’.
  • Be wary of anyone who seems over keen or is rushing you, as this may be a sign that they have other motives.
  • If somebody you’ve met online asks you to send money, bank details or passwords, don’t do it, whatever their hard luck story or other reason they give for needing it.
  • Revealing personal details such as full name, date of birth, home address or names, details and locations of family members could lead to fraud, identity theft or even personal harm.
  • Sending intimate images or videos of yourself to someone you’ve met online definitely isn’t recommended. It could result in extortion or reputational damage, and you can never be sure who will get to view the content. Also remember that some relationships don’t last forever.
  • End conversations with and block anyone who tells you not to mention them to your friends and family. They may be trying to isolate or coerce you.
  • Tell a friend or family member where you’re going before hooking up with an online date in person for the first time. Arrange your own transport to and from the date, meet in a busy place, keep your phone on and arrange for someone to call you to give you an opportunity to make your excuses and leave early.

A victim’s story from Victim Support

65-year-old male, Wrexham

The victim joined a website called Badoo and was looking for a friend. He received a message from someone and was quickly asked to move over to WhatsApp. They had been speaking to each other since March 2023 and the report was made to the police in January 2024.

The victim was lonely, lived alone without family contact as they were estranged following his mother’s death. He has shared that he suffers with depression and has mental health needs and feels isolated.

He shared information with the person he thought he was entering into a relationship with and she began asking for money telling him it was to put a deposit down on their home together. He sent cash, Apple gift vouchers gifts, jewellery and an iPhone.

The female would ask that the items were posted to her uncles’ addresses and there were five addresses in total. His total loss was around £25,000. When contacted by Victim Support, he responded to initial contact and asked for help with advocacy with the police and support for the emotional impact of the situation he is in.

The victim has explained in detail that the priority is not the money going, but the lies and deceit he feels he has been subjected to and the emotional impact this has had on his life. There is still some belief for him that this is a true relationship and will lead him to a better life and someone to share his time with. He remains in contact with her, and he is emotionally torn. Whilst he has informed the police, he feels deep guilt that she will get arrested and in trouble.

During Victim Support’s calls with him, the victim has said that he would like to visit the address of the female in person to see if she is real and to see if there is a future for them. Victim Support and he have spoken in depth about the impact that romance scams have on people and how the scammers use language to hook people into the romance and his vulnerability. He has somewhat accepted that he needs to look after himself first and limit the contact with the female.

The victim is engaging in weekly calls with Victim Support and has said is very helpful to talk to someone who understands and while he remains emotionally torn, the fact that he has reached out for support is a positive step on him building resilience and recovering from this ordeal.

What to do if you become a victim of romance fraud

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.

Victim Help Centre

The Victim Help Centre, whose work is commissioned by the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner, is here to listen and offer support, and you are encouraged to use their services.

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.

Please don’t hesitate to contact the Victim Help Centre if you’ve been a victim of fraud and would like to know more about how they can help you.

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