West Yorkshire Police detective warned against romance fraud tactics as Leeds victim targeted by online scammer
Detective Inspector Leanne Walker compared many of the tactics involved in dating fraud as similar to those seen in coercive control cases, with emotional bonds and trust built over months and then used to manipulate people .
Leeds residents warn of new scam designed to steal victim details
A member of the West Yorkshire Police Economic Crime Unit, she said: ‘The suspects are sophisticated, extremely patient and care for their victim. They spend a lot of time building that trust and that relationship.
“Dating fraud is not just something that affects vulnerable people. It is something that anyone can fall victim to. They are very intelligent and manipulative individuals.
One of those victims is ‘Anne’, a woman in her early sixties who lives in West Leeds. She had limited internet experience when she received a friend request on social media from a scammer posing as an American soldier named William.
“I thought it was genuine,” she says. “I’ve never been online before and had no idea there were scammers out there.
“It was three years ago, first on Facebook. He made contact with a friend request. He said he was in Afghanistan.
Scammers often create fake profiles pretending to be soldiers, doctors, charities or others in positions of authority because they are widely viewed as trusted members of society, the inspector said. Detective Walker.
“It can help them legitimize the reasons why they can’t see the person, can’t be in contact, or need things to be kept a secret,” she said.
“Pretending to live abroad is one of the signs that would give me a wake-up call, ask to keep your relationship private, make excuses why they can’t meet.”
She advised against accepting friend requests from people you don’t know or already recognize.
“This is a very common method for fraudsters to contact victims,” she said. “They want to get a hook. Once they got it, they would likely start researching their victims.
“There is an open line of communication there which is an opportunity for a fraudster. They will keep a conversation log. They know exactly what each party has been saying along the way, which helps them make it seem like there is an investment in this relationship. “
Anne and William started chatting online regularly, exchanging messages via email and social media most of the time. There were promises of UK visits that never came to fruition and suggestions were made on Anne moving to America so they could live together.
“He asked for £ 300 once so he could come here to meet me in England and then he claimed he did his knee,” she said. “He always found excuses as to why he couldn’t do it.
“Another was for iTunes cards so he could update his phone and things like that. It was smaller amounts but it’s all going up, right?
“I should have kicked him. I made a big mistake believing in a person like that.
In the three years she has been in contact with William, Anne estimates that she was the victim of a £ 5,000 scam.
Det Insp Walker said, “It’s common for the initial requests to be lower to test the water and see what the response is, what they’re getting and how successful their relationship is.”
She said crooks would release information about the flows weeks or months in advance to help legitimize requests for money later.
She added: “Some can be in contact for years and years and at the end of the day people can lose a lot of money, or people can take what they can get from that particular victim and move on. to something else.”
Over £ 68million was lost to dating frauds by UK victims in 2020, which Detective Inspector Walker says shows everyone is sensitive to it under the right circumstances.
“Romance fraud is something that affects your heart and your purse,” she said. “Building trust during this initial period is crucial.
“It’s a form of grooming. It’s about building that emotional connection and that trust. When you have that connection and that trust, as a human, you want to make that person happy, you want to help them.
“I would say it is akin to coercive control related to domestic violence. It is very manipulative but the victim cannot see it because of the false reality created by the fraudster.
“It can be difficult for anyone who finds themselves in this particular situation and finds themselves in these circumstances. Their whole belief system is challenged and overthrown. At this point, you want to believe it’s true. “
When Anne realized she was being cheated, William tried to make her jealous by talking about another woman and on other occasions he sent abusive messages.
“He cheated me for money,” she said. “He doesn’t shoot at me anymore and I told him. I am no longer stupid.
“I really liked him until I found out he was a fake. We were going to live in America. He even mentioned a green card to live there – then he said I was using it to go out. He called me a crook.
She said she had blocked him on social media, but had started sending emails, with threats being made against posting fake nude images of herself online.
Hearing about the tactics being adopted, Detective Inspector Walker said, “If you are attacked the first thing you will do is fight back.
“It’s about the relationship you’ve built and putting the victim in your clutches, the guilt that trips the victim, making them anxious to please.
“The thought of losing that connection would leave a huge void in a victim’s life. Losing it could be like losing a relationship. “
For Anne, the experience sometimes gave her a feeling of suicide. She said, “I’m starting to trust no one. Sometimes I don’t even want to go down or anywhere because of it.
“I want to warn everyone about this sort of thing. It could be anyone who could fall for the trap.
Accepting that you’ve been a victim of fraud is extremely complicated, according to Detective Inspector Leanne Walker.
“It is a very underreported crime,” she said. “Self-report is particularly low because victims may feel shame or denial.
“They shouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed.”
She stressed the importance of reporting suspicions of fraud as soon as they are discovered.
“You should contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud,” she said.
“Police and Action Fraud can investigate incidents after they happen, but those people who have profiles on various social media platforms or go to dating sites will target a lot of people. If you tell the service providers, they can freeze their accounts to prevent other people from falling victim. “
The Yorkshire Evening Post’s Stop The Scammers campaign aims to raise awareness and spot scams so our readers can better protect themselves, their friends and family.
Det Insp Walker said you should be wary of someone who asks you a lot of questions but gives little information about themselves. She also advised against deleting conversations from social media or the original dating site.
No matter how long you’ve been talking to someone online, she cautioned against:
* Send money to someone you haven’t met in person;
* Give someone access to your bank account;
* Take out a loan on behalf of someone else;
* Buy, send or receive items such as laptops or mobile phones;
* Invest your own money in a program on their advice;
* Provide copies of personal documents.
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