How Romance Scams Thrive In The Coronavirus
Most of us feel lonely to one degree or another during quarantine, with the forced disconnection from our circles of social and emotional support, when those who live alone may feel this loneliness more deeply.
One of the solutions available to us to meet the need to interact with others is online communication, but it turns out that there are those who take advantage of the increasing use of the Internet and the feeling of loneliness to deceive others, and especially others.
The British Police’s Fraud and Online Crime Center announced this week a spike in the number of reports of online romantic scams. From October to November, more than 600 complaints were lodged per month, a 26% increase compared to the number of complaints filed in the months leading up to the closure imposed on England.
This indicates, according to British police, an increase in the number of romantic scams committed during the lockdown. That is, for crooks taking advantage of the period of lockdown to forge a romantic relationship for the purpose of deception, which was only discovered at the end.
In romantic deception, crooks use a fake profile and a false identity to create a romantic and friendly relationship with women and men. They do this through social networks like Facebook and Instagram, along with dating sites and apps like Tinder and Okay-Cupid.
The crooks gain the trust of the victims over weeks or months of online conversations, during which they manage to convince the victims that there is a loving and genuine relationship between them.
Over time, they begin to demand that they transfer large sums of money to them under various pretexts, and after they have managed to get their money out of them – disappear as if they were not there.
On days like these, crooks use a variety of excuses to explain the fact that the connection must exist on the internet only. For example, they may impersonate people who serve the country or work abroad.
The period of closure made life much easier for crooks, and provided them with an excellent excuse for having only a virtual connection. Beyond that, they take advantage of the sense of loneliness that leads many people to make new connections through the web.
“While using the Internet can be a great way to meet new people and build relationships, there is also a great risk of falling victim to a romantic scam because crooks know well how to exploit people’s need for human contact,” said the British Victim Support organization, which supports crime victims and helps them build and renew their lives.
A spokesman for the association added that “from the referrals that came to us we discovered that the crooks were using circumstances caused by the plague to get money. They lied that they needed medical treatment, or money to help them survive a job loss.”
Although on the face of it, romantic scam sounds like something that “probably won’t happen to us,” it is not an esoteric event, but a fairly common phenomenon. The data from England show that in the year that passed between October 2019 and October 2020, an average of over 400 cases of romantic fraud per month were reported, and their total losses amount to close to 300 million US dollars.
“Almost Anyone Could Become a Victim of Romantic Fraud”
“It is important to understand that this is an incredibly sophisticated crime, and almost anyone could become a target,” the association said.
“When people go into dating sites they are very vulnerable. They are after a divorce or in a low place in their lives, and they are insecure. We all want someone to tell us beautiful things and make us feel special, and that love works like a drug.”
As a result, those victims who fell into the network of crooks are forced to take loans from the bank or borrow money from the people close to them, in order to give it to their impersonating lover.
However, the damage done to the victims is not only financial but also emotional because they feel they have not only lost their money but also who they saw as a loving spouse and what they thought they had. So the emotional damage is no less severe. In addition, they tend to blame themselves many times.
Most of the victims of the romantic scam are women, who make up 58% of all victims, but some have risen to 63% during the lockdown in the UK.
It is no coincidence that these crooks use ways reminiscent of domestic violence to gain control over their victims, including the use of manipulation and distortion of the victims’ perception of reality to the point where they have difficulty identifying as victims of romantic deception.
Here, too, the existence of the quarantine makes it easier for the crooks, as they will often try to isolate their victims from the support networks available to them, mainly because friends and family can identify the crime being committed and point it out to the victim.
In response to the growing rate of romantic scams during the Corona period, a campaign was launched in England in collaboration with the police and some dating sites and apps aimed at raising awareness of romantic scams and reminding people that uncles should not fall at the feet of a stranger.
“The criminals are experts in impersonating people, and are investigating you for hours in preparation for their scam,” London police said. “We remind everyone to fall in love with a person, not a profile. It can protect you and your money.”