For Love or Money: Woman recalls sending money in romance scam
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Experts discuss how to spot and stop romance scams this week’s Scam Watch with James Walker from Rightly and Louise Baxter from the National Trading Standards Scams Team. It’s time to take control, know how to spot a scam and what to do about it.
Scam of the week: Romance scams
Romance scams have grown enormously in just the past year, banks say scammers operating in these confidence tricks jumped 73 per cent in just a year. Action Fraud believes that the true figure for losses to romance scams could be over £95 million a year. Millions of people use online dating apps or social networking sites to meet someone. But instead of finding love or companionship, many people find a scammer trying to take your money.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, love is in the spotlight for one day in a year. But, Scammers in romance cons often spend many months and even years working on their target. Men and women are both targeted and statistics suggest that the over-fifties are most vulnerable.
In January this year, Match Group, the parent company that owns dating apps Tinder, Hinge, Match, Plenty of Fish, Meetic and OurTime, and some others, announced a new campaign introducing in-app messages and email notifications to give users tips on how to prevent being scammed online. The idea is to prompt users with messages about common scamming behaviours to look out for.
Although romance scams often begin on dating apps, the scammer will try to get you away from the app as quickly as possible and into a messaging service such as WhatsApp.
It’s always worth checking that potential matches’ pictures are real, and video chatting with them before meeting in person is the best way to go. Scammers will often avoid even video interaction, making one excuse or another why they can’t do that. Excuses might include things like they are on an oil rig or in the army somewhere remote.
Dating online is now the norm and just as popular as dating apps. You meet someone you think is really special on a dating website. Soon they want to email, call, or message you off the platform. They say it’s true love, but they live far away, this might be because they work abroad or because they are in the military. They tell you how much they love you and they only say nice, wonderful, kind things to you. Then they start asking for money. They ask for money for maybe a plane ticket to visit you, or money to have surgery they need desperately or for one of their sick children or for any other reason, but the money needs to come now, and they want you to give it to them.
What do the criminals do? How do they scam you?
The scammer starts slowly, building trust, making up their story but at some point, they make their move and ask for money. They might claim to be abroad or working on an oil rig – reasons you may not be able to meet in person. But in fact, they’re sitting in a cubicle in a ‘scam factory’ alongside teams of other thieves. The scammer will go to great lengths to gain trust and have been known to work at a scam for months, even years. They are masterful at using language to persuade and manipulate victims to exploit them. There is evidence that scammers can be working 40 or 50 ‘romances’ at a time.
They use your love interest and desire to meet a partner as a way to coerce and control you and ultimately, steal your money. These criminals are clever and change their tactics and stories depending on the person they are targeting.
It is also common for criminals to pose as famous celebrities and contact people via social media, maybe finding you on a fan site and striking up a conversation with you. They may claim for example that their managers told them to get in touch with some fans. The conversation from these criminals will ultimately lead to the criminal asking you for money. They may claim for example they are in financial difficulties, or they need money for their charity.
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Common tactics used by romance scammers
The things below could be red flags and should make you stop and think about if this is a genuine person or are there holes in their story. Do they say they can’t meet you in person? What is the reason for this and is there any proof?
They might tell you to keep your relationship a secret. This stops you seeking a second opinion. If the criminals pretend to be someone famous, they could claim you can’t tell anyone for press reasons.
They ask you for money, this is one of the biggest warnings, why would a genuine love interest that you have never met ask you for money?
They will tell you how to pay them, they will often use quick methods and methods that mean you can’t easily get the money back, like Western Union or MoneyGram, put money on gift cards (like Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, or Steam) and give them the PIN codes, send money through a money transfer app, or transfer cryptocurrency.
Here’s the bottom line: Never send money or gifts to someone you haven’t met in person.
What to do if you get suspicious
Stop talking to the person immediately. Don’t send any money.
Talk to someone you trust, there is no shame in these situations, millions of people become victims of scams each year. You are not alone.
Do a reverse image search if you can or get someone to help you do it. If the picture has been used before it will come up on a search. This is a clear indicator the person you think you are talking to might not be who you think they are.
Scambusters Mail bag – answering your scam niggles (Reader questions)
Question: I have responded to an advert I received on social media, offering me a working-from-home opportunity. It said it involved very little work, but I can earn loads of money. I immediately sent them the money as I wanted to ensure I got in on the job opportunity early as I have been unemployed for far too long. I now think it may be too good to be true as I haven’t heard from the company in over three weeks. What should I do?
If you believe you’ve fallen for a scam, contact your bank immediately on a number you know to be correct, such as the one listed on your statement, their website or on the back of your credit or debit card.
Report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or via actionfraud.police.uk. If you are in Scotland, please report to Police Scotland directly by calling 101 or Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000.STOP others being a cybercrime victim by reporting scams and suspicious emails. Forward the scam email to [email protected] Use Rightly to stop fraudsters sharing your data exposing you to scams.
Remember: If you have received a text you think is a scam then you can forward to 7726 or take a screenshot and send it to [email protected] If you are receiving lots of unwanted phone calls or text messages you can also consider removing your details from data brokers, ensuring that you use a right to object to processing of your data. You can learn more about this on Rightly to stop the sharing of your data exposing you to scams. And you can take a free training course on how to fight against scams on www.friendsagainstscams.org.uk. The more we talk about scams the more we take away the shame.
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