Action Fraud is warning romance seekers to be cautious when using dating platforms, as new data reveals criminals have already conned over £15 million out of unsuspecting lovers with bogus investment opportunities.
Data from the national reporting centre for fraud and cyber crime reveals that £15,665,332 has been lost this year to criminals offering bogus investment opportunities on dating platforms, with an average loss of £15,936 per victim.
Almost a quarter (23 per cent) of victims were aged 30 to 39 years old, and around two thirds of victims (60 per cent) were aged 30 to 59 years old.
While the vast majority of investments offered are in cryptocurrency, victims have also handed over money believing they're investing in other commodities, including shares and stocks, gold and raw materials.
Victims have reported being approached on dating platforms by criminals, who at first will engage in typical conversation in order to build a trusting relationship. Once this relationship has been formed, the fraudster will change the topic of conversation to an investment opportunity that they claim can help make the victim money.
The victim is then persuaded to continue the conversation on a secondary messaging platform – which often cannot provide the same level of safety as dating platforms – as the end-end encryption they use prevents the secondary platform from having any visibility into the content of these messages.
Eventually, the victim is persuaded to transfer funds to the fraudster for what they believe to be a legitimate investment opportunity. In reality, the money is pocketed by the criminal as the investment opportunity isn't legitimate.
In some cases, victims have been deceived into transferring funds on multiple occasions, having been told their initial investment was successful. In other cases, victims have been told they cannot access their investment without paying numerous charges such as transaction fees, security deposits and currency conversion costs.
The fraudster will typically cut all contact when the victim refuses to transfer more funds, or says that they've run out of money.
How to protect yourself
- No matter how long you've been speaking to someone online, if you haven't met them in person, do not send them any money.
- Don't be rushed into making an investment. Be wary if you're being pressured to invest quickly, or promised returns that sound too good to be true. Take time to do your research.
- Research the person you're talking to, as their photos may not be genuine. Performing a reverse image search can find photos that have been taken from somewhere, or someone, else.
- Be suspicious if you are contacted out the blue about an investment opportunity. Always seek advice from friends or family and consider getting independent professional advice before making a significant financial decision.
- Stay on the site's messaging service until you meet in person. Criminals want to quickly switch to other platforms that are less well regulated and have stronger encryption, so there's no evidence of your conversation.
- You can check if an investment opportunity you've been offered could potentially be a scam by visiting the Financial Conduct Authority's (FCA) ScamSmart website.
- Most online platforms have a reporting tool which you can use if you suspect someone online is using pictures that don't belong to them, you are suspicious of their behaviour, or they have asked you for money. Reporting their user profile means it can be blocked, which helps protect others.
Action Fraud also advises that the public follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign to keep themselves safe from fraud.
- Stop: Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.
- Challenge: Could it be fake? It's okay to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.
- Protect: If you think you've been a victim of fraud, contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud online at actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040.