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But while the number of dating sites has rocketed, so too have the incidences of fraud.Recent figures from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) reveal online dating fraud is on the rise, with a 33% increase in fraud cases in 2014, compared to 2013.“We’ve seen cases where people have been speaking to someone online for months - of even years - and have handed over thousands and thousands of pounds in this time.”As well as being hit financially, many victims have to face the emotional impact of finding out that the person they fell for is just a trickster who wanted their money.“When someone places a lot of trust and faith in a person who they think they know, they often don’t separate their emotional feelings from rational thinking,” adds Neate.“Criminals will play on this vulnerability.”Further figures from the NFIB show that more than half (57%) of all reported crimes relating to online dating were by women, with those aged 45 to 55 the most targeted.
At this point, the fraudster will invite the victim to an internet video chat and encourage them to perform a sexual act.
“This person is still largely a stranger to you.”If you’re in two minds about what to do, consult a trusted friend or relative, as they can view the situation objectively and provide sound advice.“If you’re unsure about any member of a dating site, you could also contact the site’s customer service team,” says a spokesperson for dating site Toyboy Warehouse, which has an in-house moderation team dedicated to stopping scammers before they have a chance to act.
“Staff will be well equipped to investigate whether or not the profile is real.”If you do feel ready to meet someone in person having chatted to them online, you need to remain on high alert and should arrange to meet for the first few times in a safe place with plenty of people around.
“Often the fraudster will not ask directly for money, preferring to bide their time and build a strong bond with their victim, before ultimately inventing a reason why they urgently need money transferred into their account.”As well as online dating scams, there are also instances of people being targeted via personal ads.
But while dating scams in their various different guises may be rife, the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) receives very few complaints.“Many people are affected by ‘lonely hearts scams’, yet a lot are too embarrassed to speak up or seek help,” says an FOS spokesperson.