A record number of UK citizens fell for dating-related scams in 2016, the Victoria Derbyshire program has learned.
The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau tracked 3,889 cases of dating fraud in 2016. These victims gave fraudsters approximately £39m in the hopes they had found true love.
One such victim, "Nancy," met a man calling himself "Marcelo." After connecting on Match.com, the pair moved their conversation to an instant messaging service, where they chatted day and night. At one point, Marcelo said thieves had mugged him in Turkey. He asked Nancy if she could loan him some money to cover some expenses and pay for his hospitalized son's surgery. Nancy readily complied.
As she told BBC News:
"It escalated unbelievably quickly, so straight away it was the medical fees, then it was money for food, money needed to pay rent, money for taxes to get out of Turkey. I wasn't comfortable, and then I got so far in I couldn't get myself out, and I didn't want to walk away having lost £50,000 or what-have-you, so you keep going in the hope that you're wrong and this person is genuine."
In total, Nancy lost more than £300,000 to Marcelo. That's about double the amount of money Judith Lathlean, a 68-year-old university professor living in Hampshire, lost to one "John Porter," who claimed he had lost his passport in South Africa and needed help getting back to Britain.
Lathlean met John on the website Parship. Like in Nancy's case, they switched over to phone calls and instant messaging early on in their correspondence.
Stories of dating fraud like Nancy's and Lathlean's have been growing in number over the years. In 2013, the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau documented 2,824 reports of dating scams with reported losses of £27,344,814. It only took three years for the number of cases to surge by 1,000 and the estimated damages to increase by more than £10 million.
No doubt dating scams will continue to prey upon unsuspecting users. With that in mind, people should protect themselves by not posting too sensitive of information on their social media profiles and by never sending money to people whom they don't know. They should also think twice before moving their conversations with potential matches off a dating website. As long as they communicate within a site's platform, the service can scan for profiles and activity that violate its terms and conditions.