Police are warning about the potential dangers of online dating after a Rugby woman seeking love was duped into a money-laundering scam.
Officers say the number of internet romance scams is on the increase across the region and are urging people to be on their guard.
And they have issued advive to help stay safer online.
Detective Constable Tina Athwal, a fraud investigator for Warwickshire Police, said: “As use of the internet for dating purposes increases, so do the number of scams associated with it – and the amount of money lost.
“Once fraudsters have gained the trust of their victims, they begin to request money under the guise of various false eventualities. These could be anything from a medical problem they have to claiming to be military personnel based overseas and needing funds for flights home or early discharge.”
The Rugby victim, who has not been named, liaised with a man on a dating website. He claimed to be divorced, from Wolverhampton and was working abroad. He had been jailed for assaulting a customs official.
The man asked her for money to buy his way out of prison and also claimed to have a sick son in America. On saying she had no money to send, the man asked if he could get a friend to send her some money to forward to a church via an international money transfer facilitator. Although the woman lost no money of her own, she was used to launder fraudulently-obtained cash.
Det Const Athwal added: “In other instances, as the online relationship develops, the exchanges become more intimate and the victims might be asked to share intimate pictures or perform sexual acts in front of a web cam. These images or videos are then used by the criminals to blackmail the victim into handing over money.”
DC Athwal said people should think twice before taking a relationship “offline” and be extremely wary about sending money to people following internet contact.
Warning signs: what to look out for
• The other person wants to communicate through instant messaging and, texts, rather than through the dating website or chat room.
• They ask lots of questions about you but don’t tell much about themselves.
• They quickly start calling you by a pet name or use endearing terms.
• They don’t answer basic questions about where they live and work.
• They’ve arranged to visit you but need money to pay travel costs.
Top tips to help enjoy safe online dating:
• Trust your instincts - if you think something feels wrong, it probably is.
• Choose a site that will protect your anonymity until you choose to reveal personal information and that will enforce its policies against inappropriate use.
• Be sure to run a Google image search on the photos in profiles you receive, to ensure they have not been stolen to create a fake profile.
• Do not post personal information, such as phone numbers, on dating sites.
• Never send money or give credit card or online account details to anyone you don’t know and trust.
• Wait until you feel comfortable with an individual before revealing your phone number, place of work or address.
• Be extremely wary about removing clothes or doing other things in front of your web cam that could be used against you - even if you think you know the other party.
• Use a dating site that offers the ability to email prospective dates using a service that conceals both parties’ true email addresses.
• Set up a separate email account that does not use your real name.
• Make sure your phone number is ‘blocked’ to people you contact on dating sites.
• Pick a user name that does not include personal information. For example, “joe_glasgow” or “jane_liverpool” would be bad choices.
• Finally, meet for the first few times in a safe place with plenty of people around.
If you are a victim of romance fraud, or suspect you are dealing with a fraudster, report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre by calling 0300 123 2040 or by visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk.