Data analytics professionals might be highly sought after in the business world but their skills are also being used to exploit singletons and those seeking extra marital affairs online, amid claims that “romance fraud” victims have handed over nearly £40m to fraudsters in the past year alone.
According to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, victims reached a record high of 3,889 in 2016, handing over a record £39m.
Meanwhile Action Fraud, the UK’s cyber-crime reporting centre, says it receives more than 350 reports of such scams a month. It is estimated hundreds more are never reported.
Action Fraud deputy head Steve Proffitt claimed each victim loses an overage of £10,000. “You are dealing with the best salesmen in the world, they don’t want your love, they just want your money.
“A lot of the online dating fraudsters we know are abroad. They’re in West Africa, Eastern Europe and it’s very difficult for British law enforcement to take action against them in those jurisdictions.
The scammers often use data analysis techniques, including profile data and information such as wealth and lifestyle, in order to manipulate their victims into handing over the money.
One woman interviewed by the BBC lost more than £300,000 after being hoodwinked by a scammer calling himself Marcelo from Manchester on Match.com.
“Marcelo” then persuaded the woman to move their chat off the dating website and on to an instant messaging service. But almost immediately the sob story began, first asking her to send money for medical fees. She added: “It escalated unbelievably quickly, then it was money for food, money needed to pay rent, money for taxes.” The victim said she is now facing bankruptcy after having lost “over £300,000, maybe even over £350,000”.
Match.com claimed it provides regular advice on how to stay safe and suggests members keep conversations on the site “so that our customer care team can identify abnormal activity”.
Professor Monica Whitty, a cyber-psychologist, told the BBC that it is “not the case that stupid people fall for romance scams – they can be very clever”.
“The criminal talks to them morning, noon and night. They use email to send poetry, they use instant messenger to groom them, to talk to them, to keep them awake at night. So they groom them until they’re ready to give up money.”
Online dating is proving a stiff challenge for most
Hackers eye up top dating sites
ICO dating site probe branded ‘limp’
ICO threatens action on dating sites
Schoolgirl dating ad gets ASA slap
‘Suggestive’ dating site ad banned
‘Gratuitous’ dating site ad flayed
New warning over dating scams