ROMANCE SCAMS IS YOUR ONLINE LOVER REALLY A CRIMINAL GANG?

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Ladies, have you received friendship requests on Facebook from military men? I’ve had quite a few lately. When I click on their profile they don’t appear to have any other friends. They have posted nothing other than some pics of themselves decorated in medals, or they’re standing in a manly fashion beside military vehicles.

Let’s face it we all receive strange Facebook requests from time to time, mine have included a Russian gent with a serial killer look about him, who had only two friends on his list, they were both blonde women who looked unnervingly just like me! Another request I received, was from a woman pictured proudly displaying her huge Kim Kardashian-esque bare backside to me, in much the same way baboons present their rumps to each other to invite mating. Needless to say I have managed to resist the urge to start up a friendship with any of the aforementioned individuals, but who are those military men and why are they intent on befriending me?

The truth is they are more than likely romance scammers, unscrupulous individuals who prey on the lonely. Usually how these military romance scammers work is, they gain your trust and make you believe they are romantically interested in you. Then they start asking you for money using different scenarios, they may claim they are military personnel based overseas and need money for flights home or an early discharge from the forces. It’s not just on Facebook you need to be aware of romance scammers, they also exploit people looking for love via dating sites, chat rooms, social media and direct e-mails.

Romance scammers cost victims in the UK £27 million last year according to Get Safe Online and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. Over 2,700 were reported to Action Fraud (National Fraud & Cyber Crime Reporting Centre) last year with the average loss of the victim standing at £10,000. Though the actual number of crimes is thought to be much higher, with many victims not reporting being duped because they were too embarrassed. People aged between 50-59 are the most likely to fall victim to these scams, accounting for a quarter of all frauds and losing over £6 million.

Normally the scammer will start a long distance romance with you through emails, instant messaging, texting and phone calls. The exchanges will become more intimate, they will probably send you a photo and give you a pet name. The person you have fallen for isn’t who you think, in fact you may be contact with several members of a criminal gang. Once they are confident you are under their spell they will share a personal problem with you and ask for your help by sending them money. They may claim a family member is ill and they need money for medical treatment, or that they’ve arranged to visit you and need help with the costs. They may even claim that their plane ticket to see you was paid for then stolen. If you send money they will keep coming up with more reasons for you to send them more cash. They might even ask for photos or videos of you of a sexual nature and if you send them they will be used to blackmail you for money. The fraudsters will threaten to send the photos/videos to your family, friends and work colleagues if you don’t agree to their cash requests.

The giveaway signs that Mr or Miss Right may be a scammer include them asking you lots of questions about yourself but reveal little about themselves. They don’t answer basis questions about their work or where they live. They want to communicate with you through texts and instant messaging rather than the dating website or chat room where you met. Beware also if their profile picture is too perfect, for example, if they look like a male model or a beauty queen.

To date online safely, avoid revealing too much personal information. Never respond to requests for money, no matter what sob story you’ve been told. If you are asked about your finances stop communicating with them immediately. If you’re a victim of dating fraud break off contact immediately and report the fraudster to the website or chat room operator and also Action Fraud (www.actionfraud.police.uk)

When it comes to romantic involvement online trust your instincts, if you think something feels wrong, it probably is. Online romance shouldn’t involve finance.