Brighton man’s photos stolen in mass romance scam | #ukscams | #datingscams | #european | #datingscams | #love | #relationships | #scams | #pof | | #dating

  • By Lauren Collins
  • BBC News, South East

Image caption,

Steve Bustin, from Brighton, says one scammer created a fake passport to con his victim

A gay man from Sussex says his images have been stolen at least 18 times by romance scammers to con women.

Steve Bustin from Brighton, East Sussex, says he was first made aware his photos were being used when one of the victims called him.

“My phone rang and a woman’s voice said ‘you don’t know me, but I thought I knew you’,” Mr Bustin said.

It comes as the new Online Safety Bill progressed further in parliament this week.

Speaking to Politics South East, Mr Bustin said: “A woman who had been ‘dating’ me online for some weeks had got suspicious of some of the photos and tracked me down and contacted me.

“As a result we went public and I now know of at least 18 to 20 women who have ‘dated me’ and I suspect there are dozens more out there.”

Mr Bustin said a scammer, known only as “Martin”, had spent weeks conning one victim by creating a fake passport using Mr Bustin’s image and date of birth and even tried to dupe the victim with a fake video call.

Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime, said romance fraud cost victims £88m in 2022.

Image source, Steve Bustin

Image caption,

One scammer sent a victim these images of Mr Bustin, claiming they were taken on the same day

One victim, who contacted Mr Bustin, grew suspicious when the scammer sent her images he claimed were taken on the same day but showed significant physical differences.

“Those pictures were actually 12 years apart”, Mr Bustin said.

Government efforts to tackle romance fraud are focused on the Online Safety Bill which would allow media regulator Ofcom to hold internet service providers, such as social media giant Facebook, accountable for allowing its service to be used by criminals to communicate with victims.

A statement from Meta, which runs Facebook, said: “We’ve developed technology which enables us to find and remove fake accounts.

“We also let users know when they are messaging an account which is demonstrating behaviour which we’ve previously seen from scammers.”

Emotional impact

Mr Bustin raised concerns that the new legislation targets only the social media giants and said: “These sorts of frauds are starting on dating sites.

“I think they’re [new laws] concentrating on the big players but it’s the smaller players, the dating sites, that are facilitating the fraud.”

He added: “I have met a couple of the women and one in particular said that when we met she felt like she’d been dumped, because she had developed feelings for this person.

“Of course, I walk in and have no feelings for her – perfectly nice woman – and I have to be mindful of the emotional impact of that.”

The Online Safety Bill is in the final stages of parliamentary approval before being made law.

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