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The age of the Tinder Swindler: romance fraud and how to protect yourself from online dating scams

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It’s that time of year again where a singleton might be swiping on their dating app more often in the hopes of securing a valentine and, with the release of the popular Netflix documentary ‘The Tinder Swindler’, it’s got us thinking about romance fraud and how we can protect ourselves online while in the search for love!

Now, whilst The Tinder Swindler’s Simon Leviev’s operation is an extraordinary case, research shows romance fraud has surged over the years.

We outline what to look out for and how to stay safe with online dating.

What is romance fraud?

Romance fraudsters take the time to build a relationship with their victim, to build a false sense of security and trust with the language they use and with significant manipulation.

Fraudsters will create and persuade their victim’s idea of reality, comparable to grooming, domestic abuse and coercion control. They then trick their victim into sending them money claiming it’s for emotive or highly sensitive reasons.

During the height of the pandemic in 2020, Action Fraud advised they received 7,754 reports of romance fraud, equating to £73.9 million in losses.

What are romance fraudsters tactics?

Catfishing:

Romance fraud starts with catfishing, they hide their identity using stolen photos, stock pictures and even stolen video footage.

The fraudster will make a profile on a dating app, on social media or a gaming app such as ‘Words with Friends’.

Often a fraudster will suggest they both move their conversation to another platform like email or personal messaging, such as WhatsApp, because dating sites are monitored and have a regulated environment.

The set-up:

Typically fraudsters will take their time and groom their victims into a secure environment where they make the individual feel empowered and trusting.

They build on manipulative powers over time, this is called the ‘set-up’. The conversation is harmless, getting to know each other as such and discussing their family life, careers, and future goals.

They create a relatable surface to build on and a desirable and appealing future for the victim.

Isolation:

Once the fraudster has gained the victim’s attention and created a connection with them, they will then isolate their target. A bubble is created for the two of them so outsiders’ opinions can’t create doubt in the victim’s mind.

The fraudster will make the victim feel disloyal for discussing their relationship to others and outsiders, plus they are made to feel they are sabotaging the relationship. The fraudster will threaten to leave if the victim questions them or the intentions of the relationship.

Isolating the victim and manipulating to be secretive is a tactic to protect the fraudsters activity of outsiders’ views since they’re not the ones provoked within this fake reality.

Financial request:

When the time comes for the fraudster to make their financial request, they use a technique called ‘instinctual responses’.

A sense of urgency is created by the fraudster, a need of desperation that only the victim can help with causes them to act quickly to protect them – and of course they would, they have been manipulated into a whirlwind romantic sense of reality!

Often if the victim is hesitant and questions the need for the funds, they are accused by the fraudster for lacking in compassions and failure of being a loving partner.

Reasons fraudsters may ask for money range from a vast number of creative scenarios, such as funds needed for travelling to work or to pay for healthcare for a loved one. In the Leviev’s case he needed financial help to keep his business afloat.

UK Finance research shows that there is an average of five payments within romance fraud per case.

How can you and your loved ones stay safe from romance fraud?

  • Be wary of any requests from those you’ve never met in person asking for money.
  • If you have your suspicions, you can do a background check on their profile pictures. There are resources online where you can reverse an image and the original location and individual this image is used by.
  • Be vigilant of what you share online. Scammers collate the information you put on your profile and social media platform to alter your perception into thinking they know you.
  • Speak to your family and friends, be aware of the fraudsters manipulation to isolate you.

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