The money pit of online dating fraud

There seems so much to take in when someone new approaches you on your dating site, it is easy to see why many members miss the glaring signs that should be telling you ‘you’re being set up for a fall’.

However, as Action Fraud have recently reported, backed by Soca and many other leading crime and academic investigations, there are indicators that should draw your attention to the fact that your new online love may not be the real deal.

Grooming is a massive part of the process. If some of the signs reported in this series so far have pricked your conscience somewhat, but you think you are safe because you have a long-term relationship with your distant partner, take heed!

These dating site confidence tricksters are in it for the long haul. The investigations have recorded relationships lasting for five years before the final sting, all the while gently building up confidence via flattery and character history, altogether plausible in the eyes of the smitten dating site member.

Along the way, there may be requests for small gifts, such as replacement phones to stay in touch, or bolder requests for more up to date pc equipment so that they can prolong their long-distance dating site relationship. By submitting to these requests you’re confirming to the conman that you have disposable income; they will not relent until they have fleeced you up to the point you evetually realise what is happening. You may have spent £1,000’s before you even realise that Sonia the carer from Singapore is actually Mattheu from Nigeria.

Once they have your confidence, they may even ask for money to enable travel – this could be to meet you to develop the relationship, visit a relative who has the money repay you for what they have leant so far or a job interview so they can start to earn the money to give you back your kind, heartfelt donations. They may even give you a number to contact their UK relative whom your funds will facilitate visiting – it is a number set up to transfer to Africa, or wherever the operation is based, yet assures the infatuated dating site member, who needs little further convincing, that the story holds water.

The fraudulent love letter

As reported yesterday, this week we will be running a special series highlighting the telltale signs that could indicate you are being targeted by a fraudster on your dating site.

Many dating site members who have been targeted and subsequently succumbed to the temptation of giving money to someone whose plight seems oh so real across these platforms do not report the violation after they grasp the concept that they have been conned; if they ever do realise, that is.

Those feelings of guilt and shame, that gut-wrenching sense of despair in the moment you ask yourself ‘How could I have been so stupid?’ stop you from coming forward and reporting the crime. Not only is it difficult to know who to approach, but that sense of pride kicks in and we do not want to publicise our naïvity for fear of reproach. This is playing further into the criminals’ hands.

You are not, however, alone. If you have been conned, you are no different from the other estimated 200,000 UK dating site members and social media fans who have caved in, likewise – that is the estimated figure based upon the findings of the first real investigation into this crime in the UK by the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

If you’re unsure that you are being targeted through your dating site profile, here we start the breakdown of a typical letter sent by the gangsters, either e-mailed as an attachment or its embodiment via your online dating platform.

the signature of a dating site fraudster’s letter

Based upon SOCA’s findings, working with Leicester & Westminster Universities, if any of these signs ring alarm bells, stop what you’re doing and alert the relevant admin department or report the misdemeanour to action fraud, immediately.

They don’t waste any time relaxing you and putting you off your guard. The opening address will be overtly sickly sweet, like ‘my sweetest sweetheart’, in an attempt to endear you to them from the outset. The term also may not be one you are used to seeing. If you saw: “hiya, m’ darlin”’, you’d think nothing of it; but ‘Dearest darling’ or ‘sweetest sweetheart’ – these are clues that the letter is from someone on the dating website whose mother tongue may not be English.

Somewhere in the opening paragraphs, they will try to get you to contact them off the domain hosting your dating website. Online dating has done much to improve their targeting of anyone who can do their reputation damage and are making great strides to wheedle out the miscreants.

If you are being asked to talk on Skype, GTalk, IM or other instant messenger services, your online partner does not want the dating site picking up the conversation on their radar. Tell them to blip off, in the nicest possible way, of course – no need to stoop to their level.