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Call for more action on ‘pernicious’ romance fraud | #DatingScams | #LoveScams | #RomanceScans


  • By Katie Wray & Becky Morton
  • Political reporters

Image source, Getty Images

The police and tech firms must do more to help victims of romance scams, the UK’s new anti-fraud champion has said.

Conservative MP Simon Fell told the BBC romance fraud could be “really traumatic” for victims.

He said it was about more than people having money taken from them, with some defrauding others “for sexual gratification”.

The UK’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau received more than 8,000 reports of romance fraud in 2022.

Romance fraud is when someone is conned into sending money to a criminal who convinces them they are in a genuine relationship.

Mr Fell said: “It’s not just about people being involved in scams and having money extracted from them.

“It’s also about some people defrauding others for sexual gratification, which is a far more pernicious crime and has a far deeper effect.”

Mr Fell – who worked in fraud prevention before he became an MP and who was appointed the government’s head of anti-fraud earlier this month – told the BBC the issue was particularly prevalent over the festive period.

“I think Christmas is one of those complicated times where families come together, lots of people celebrate together. But also lots of people are on their own,” he said.

“I’m sure as a consequence, lots of people go online looking for friendship and romance at the same time.

“And what we know about fraudsters is they will pick people when they’re at their most vulnerable… so this is the time of year where they can really reap the unfortunate benefits of people turning online, looking for love and friendship.”

Mr Fell said the response of police forces to fraud varied across the country, and there needed to be better coordination and consistency.

“You basically want to know that whoever you go to, that crime is going to be reported, it’s going to be taken seriously, it’s going to be investigated, and you will be supported through that journey,” he said.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Cecilie Fjellhøy spoke to the Commons committee last month

Cecilie Fjellhøy was a victim of the “Tindler Swindler”, a conman who used the dating app to romance women whom he then manipulated into funding his lavish lifestyle. His story was told in a Netflix documentary of the same name in 2022.

Ms Fjellhøy met the conman, Simon Leviev, via Tinder while she was studying for a master’s degree in London. He told her he was the chief executive of a large diamond firm, and she met his entourage which appeared to include personal assistants and a bodyguard.

Leviev told her he could not use his credit cards because his business rivals would find out where he was. He persuaded her to take out cards and high-interest loans, and, by the time she learned the truth, he had taken more than £200,000 from her.

“I didn’t recognise myself,” said Ms Fjellhøy, who went on to co-found “LoveSaid”, an organisation that helps victims of romance fraud.

When she went to the police, she told the committee, at no point was she seen as a victim. Instead, she said. she was treated as a suspect and was “appalled” that the Metropolitan Police did not work better with its European counterparts to get Leviev extradited.

“To traumatise a victim who had gone through the worst like that, that is not how you treat a victim.

“I have to say that this is what the fraudsters want. They want all the views to be on the victims and how awful we were, so they can go scot-free. Simon Leviev was laughing, I’m so sure.”

Ms Fjellhøy also accused social media companies like Tinder of washing their hands of this kind of fraud, beyond putting up posters about “safe dating”, and saying “we’re doing everything we can”.

“I think this is just the tip of the iceberg because there is the shame.

“I know that I was the only victim who wanted to come forward here, because it is not much fun to sit here and talk about it… Romance fraud is mental abuse and coercive control.” she told the MPs.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Scams often involve victims sending money, or taking out loans and credit cards

With many romance scammers finding their victims through dating apps or other social media, Mr Fell also said tech companies had a role to play.

“They all hold information,” he told the BBC.

“We need them to be working better with law enforcement as well.”

Last month, 12 of the world’s biggest tech companies – including Facebook, Instagram and Match Group – signed a voluntary agreement with the government to reduce fraud on their platforms.

Measures in the Online Fraud Charter include a commitment to enabling users of dating platforms to choose to interact only with people who have verified their identity.

Wayne Stevens, from the charity Victim Support, called for more resources to be directed at tackling the issue.

“The government’s track record on tackling all types of fraud, including romance scams, is seriously disappointing,” he said.

“Romance fraud is also likely to be one of the most under reported types of fraud because of the shame, embarrassment and fear people experience when they realise what has happened.”

Labour MP Dame Diana Johnson, who chairs the Home Affairs Committee, told the BBC that when they heard from victims of romance fraud, they were shocked not just by how many cases there were, but by the lasting consequences for victims.

“The criminal justice system, social media companies and financial services all need to do more to support victims and ensure perpetrators can’t operate with impunity.”

Conservative Tim Loughton, who also sits on the committee, told the BBC: “No-one is doing enough to tackle romance fraud. because no-one has appreciated the seriousness of it.

“That must change because there’s no excuse now. Government is integral to that, police are integral to that.”



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