by LAUREN CODLING
WOMEN have been warned to be wary of “internet romance scams”, as it was revealed that female victims lost an estimated £39 million last year after being duped by criminals.
“Romance fraud” is defined as feigning romantic interest in a victim to manipulate them into sending money or gifts.
The latest data by Action Fraud showed that 63 per cent of victims in 2018 were female.
On average, women tended to be conned out of twice as much money as male victims. Each victim – male and female – lost an average of £11,145.
Police warned that most victims were targeted on online dating websites, apps or social media by fake profiles.
On Tuesday (12), it was reported that two women in Northern Ireland had been tricked out of nearly £105,000 in the past fortnight by romance scammers.
In one of the two cases, a female victim was tricked by a man claiming to be in the US Army. In May 2018, he said he was being held by authorities in Africa and needed money to get out. She sent him £65,000.
Police said the woman “truly believed” he was genuine as she had found a profile online that matched his details.
According to reports, there are about 10 ‘catfish’ – a term commonly used to describe a romance scammer – crimes a day reported in the UK.
Last month, an Asian woman was jailed after she blackmailed a young girl into sending her large sums of money after convincing the victim to send naked pictures of herself.
Shilpa Uga, 26, posed as a man to persuade a 16-year-old girl to send explicit images
Uga, from Leicester, used the photographs to demand money from the teenager.
Leicestershire Police subsequently discovered Uga was behind the fake social media account and she was jailed for three years.
Detective Constable Skarv Hussain, of Leicestershire Police, said the incident was “extremely traumatic” for the victim.
“Uga’s actions were callous and she had no regard for the affect it would have on the young
victim,” Hussain said.
In 2016, Farhan Mirza was jailed for convincing women he was a doctor when he was,
in fact, working as a taxi driver. The 38-year-old wore surgeon’s scrubs in his dating app pictures and succeeded in convincing women to send him money. He made around £8,500
from the scam.
A judge said the victims were “intelligent, but eventually duped and pressurised”.
According to Action Fraud data, 42 per cent of victims described falling prey to romance fraud as having a significant impact on their health or financial well-being.
The latest statistics come as figures showed the number of Tinder-related police call-outs had more than doubled in the last three years.
Police now receive more than 20 reports a week linked to the online dating app.
Although the data did not specify what was in the reports, previous research found that around a third of crimes involving dating apps are sexual assaults and rapes.
Anna Rowe, 44, was scammed by a fraudster on Tinder in 2015. The fraudster used images of Bollywood star Saif Ali Khan in his dating app profile to hide his identity.
The man, ‘Anthony Ray’, was married with children but used a false identity to exchange thousands of messages with Rowe. He used separate phones to hide his affairs from his family.
The teaching assistant has since called for the government to introduce new laws around “catfishing”, to ensure posing online as someone else would be made illegal.
“This man used me like a personal hotel with benefits under the guise of wanting the romantic, loving relationship he knew I craved,” Rowe said. “He broke my trust, took away my right to choose.
“I did not consent to having a relationship with a married man, or a man who was actively having relations with multiple women simultaneously.”
Commander Karen Baxter, head of the City of London Police’s economic crime department, urged people to look for the signs of romance fraud.
“As cases of romance fraud increase each year, so too does the cost to victims, both emotionally and financially,” Baxter said.
“The emotional damage of falling victim to romance fraud can often be far more difficult
to come to terms with.”
Experts have advised individuals to never send money to someone they meet online.
People can analyse the individual’s profile and check they are genuine by putting their name or profile pictures into a search engine, and never share personal information such as bank account details.
Eastern Eye’s resident relationship and dating columnist, Priya Mulji, said: “Sadly, there are many romance-related scams online in various forms, and most who have used that platform will encounter it on some level. However, that shouldn’t put people off because there are so many genuine people looking for a real connection. I know lots of people who have met online and gotten married.”
She added: “I would just tell people to be extra vigilant, listen to their gut instinct and
keep their guard up until they are 110 per cent comfortable.”