Romance Scam Illustrates Prevalence of Predators Online


Over the years, we have seen many different types of online romance scams. However, a recent variation of a traditional online scam has resulted in victims from across Switzerland, the United States, and the United Kingdom. This scam has ultimately cost £674,000 from several victims, with one particular victim being duped out of the most money. 

Online Scam Targets the Elderly Looking for Love

This particular online scam was perpetrated by organized crime based out of the United Kingdom and Nigeria. Two men in the London borough of Newham have been arrested by the Metropolitan Police for their roles in the fraud. 

This particular romance scam involved the man posing as a British physician and biologist who was residing in London. As proof of identity, the perpetrators of this online scam sent a photograph of a British passport with the photo of an elderly man. This illustrates the length that scammers will go to fraudulently deceive their victims. 

The major victim of this case was an elderly woman from Switzerland. She was told that the doctor had created ventilators for use by the National Health Service as part of the COVID-19 pandemic but needed money to help finance them. The victim sent £612,000 to help fund this endeavor. She only realized she had been a victim of internet fraud when she was contacted by the police after the scammers’ arrest. 

As part of the investigation into this incident, the Metropolitan Police identified another female victim from the United States and three victims (two female and one male) from the United Kingdom. The perpetrators’ phones were used to identify unknown victims such as a woman in Switzerland. In total, this online scam yielded £674,000. The two men were convicted of conspiracy to money launder and sentenced to more than four years in prison each. 

Online Scam Shows Prevalence of Romance Scams Online

This fraudulent endeavor highlights the problems posed by romance scams which fraudulently target people, often the elderly, who are searching for love through internet dating and other means. They seek to develop relationships with what are perceived to be honest intentions, cultivating these relationships until later asking for money. 

People involved in these online scams are often viewed by the public as lone wolves working alone to defraud honest people. However, as this case illustrates, these scams are often carried out by members of organized criminal organizations. Online scams have become nearly a billion dollars a year criminal industry, making them a lucrative target for criminal gangs. 

Elderly victims are often targeted by romance scams due to the fact that they are more likely to be isolated and feel alone. This can make them more receptive to believing that someone has honest intentions when they are actually seeking to fraudulently commit an internet crime. These online scams can be particularly devastating if a person does not realize they are being scammed before handing over large amounts of money. 

Tips to Avoid Online Scams

Romance scams are becoming an increasingly common occurrence online. Fortunately, there are certain calling cards that tend to denote that someone may not be acting with honest intentions. First, people should be aware of individuals who are not willing to verify their identity with a phone call, video call, or meeting in person. Often, this will include outlandish excuses. Scammers tend to target victims far away as that provides a convenient excuse against meeting in person. 

Additionally, people should be leery about love bombing, a situation where people begin to express deep feelings towards them early on. This is typically done to try to increase the speed at which a fraudulent relationship develops in order to quickly put the victim in a position where they trust them.  

Of course, the hallmark of a romance scam is a request for money. This often is framed in the situation of an emergency. Online scammers will often tell a story about a medical emergency, family tragedy, or criminal issue that requires money urgently in order to resolve. This is done both to tug at the victim’s heartstrings and encourage the victim to have to make a quick decision. This case’s example of ventilators for the pandemic highlights the urgency with which asks are made using a new example.

If someone you have met online asks you for money, you should not send it. Contact your local police department or the Internet Crime Complaint Center instead. While looking for love on the internet can be a rewarding experience, it can also expose you to online scams. The best defense for this is simply to be informed and aware. 

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