Complaints about online dating scams aren’t new, but a new British study shows that they are far more numerous than previously suspected. According to a September 27, 2011 online article in The Guardian, more than 200,000 British daters have likely fallen victim to scams perpetrated on online dating websites by criminals using false identities. Tracked by Britain’s Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA), individual losses from such scams were reported to be between 50 and 240,000 pounds, or about $77 to $370,000 in U.S. dollars.
Conducted by the United Kingdom universities of Westminster and Leicester, in cooperation with SOCA, the British study is the first to measure the extent of one of the most common internet dating scams. In the scam, which is equally popular and problematic in the U.S., a criminal joins an online dating service. Stealing an attractive dating headshot from an internet site and creating a fictitious dating profile, the scammer poses as someone looking for love. The phantom dater is always from a remote area that cannot be easily reached to discourage physical contact and force all communication to take place online. Preying on people’s emotions, their desire to be helpful and popular support for military personnel, scammers frequently pose as men or women in the armed forces who are on active duty in Iraq, Afghanistan or other remote trouble spots around the world. Typically, development of a romantic online relationship leads to a request for money to help the fake dater out of a serious jam. Unwitting victims who agree to help don’t realize that they’re putting their pocketbooks on the line along with their hearts.
While law enforcement officials have long suspected that online dating scams were under-reported, the huge number of scam victims revealed by the study was considered “shocking.” The study found that many victims either never realized they had been scammed or were too embarrassed to report their loss. In another interesting revelation, it had been assumed that most scam victims were middle-aged women; however, the study found that both men and women were frequent scam victims and that scam victims ran the gamut of age groups from young adults to senior citizens.