It's claimed online dating scams cost people looking for love in Berkshire more than £200,000 last year.
West Berkshire Citizens' Advice says there were twenty-nine reported cases in 2018 - and it's warning people to be careful as the world celebrates Valentine's Day.
It says scammers create fake profiles to lure victims in - before getting them to move their conversations off the site, and eventually asking them for money.
Officials say we should look out for these signs if we think someone might be trying to scam us:
Scammers typically create a fake online profile designed to lure their victims in. Clues for spotting a fake profile include:
- their picture does not match their personal profile description
- the partner they are looking for is much older than them
- their personal messages do not reflect their profile educational achievements
- the type of relationship they are looking for is wide and varied
The scammer will typically express strong emotions for the victim in a relatively short period of time and will suggest the relationship is moved away from the website to a more private channel, such as phone, email or instant messaging. The scammer will also go to great lengths to gain the victim’s interest and trust, showering them with loving words, sharing ‘personal information’ and even sending them gifts.
Once the scammer has gained their victim’s trust they will ask the victim for money, gifts and even their bank and credit card details. The scammer will claim that they need money for any of the following:
- an ill relative
- an operation for themselves
- they have been mugged and need cash to tide them over
- a business failure
- to visit the victim but need help with the fare
Councillor Iain McCracken, Chairman of the Joint Public Protection Committee, explained:
“Valentine’s Day is a good opportunity to raise awareness and take a stand against the crimes and predatory practices which affect thousands of people.
“Scammers are increasingly taking advantage of people looking for romantic partners, often via dating websites, apps or social media, by pretending to be prospective companions.
“They play on emotional triggers to persuade their victim to provide money, gifts or personal details, often at great cost, both financial and emotional, to their victims.”
Lynn Collie, Research and Campaigns Coordinator, Citizens Advice West Berkshire, said:
“The Citizens Advice encourages members of the public who have been a victim of a romance scam, or are concerned about someone you feel may be a victim of a scam, especially a vulnerable person, to contact Citizens Advice Consumer Service on to 03454 04 05 06 at or the PPP Trading Standards service on 01635 519930.”