Social media platforms and police not tackling romance fraud, MPs told | Crime | #DatingScams | #LoveScams | #RomanceScans

Police, banks and social media platforms are failing to tackle the growing crime of romance fraud, leaving victims without justice and “banging their heads against a wall”, MPs have been told.

Giving evidence to the home affairs select committee inquiry into fraud, two female victims described their experiences of being groomed, abused and scammed online.

Cecilie Fjellhøy, who featured in the 2022 Netflix “true crime” documentary Tinder Swindler, told the inquiry on Wednesday that trying to get social media companies to act against romance scams was “like you are banging your head against a wall”.

She described how she was scammed out of almost £200,000 by Simon Leviev, who romanced her on the online dating platform and trapped her into a scam using elaborate lies about how he was in danger and needed money urgently. She told the committee that even though Leviev was jailed for his crimes for two years he had now been released and was alleged to be committing further crimes in Germany.

Fjellhøy said Leviev’s criminal activities had a devastating emotional as well as financial impact on her life.

She said at first she trusted Leviev, adding: “He was my boyfriend.” But she said he put her through “mental abuse” and she was still having therapy to deal with what happened to her.

She was also critical of banks that romance scammers use to process payments from their victims.

“The banks are quite powerful and reluctant to open up about their internal processes,” she said.

She has joined forces with Anna Rowe, another victim of romance fraud. The women have formed LoveSaid to raise the alarm about the frauds they and many others have been subjected to. Rowe has also set up Catch the Catfish to raise awareness about romance fraud.

Rowe told the committee: “I also met my abuser on Tinder. He groomed me online for about three months and then I saw him in person a couple of times a week.”

She said that when he started to make excuses about why he could no longer see her she became suspicious and discovered he had been lying to her.

“It was becoming very apparent he was using dating apps for sexual gratification,” she said.

She gathered evidence of 16 other victims whose experiences including two rapes, a sexual assault and some cases of sex by deception but said that the police did not start to investigate until two years after she had raised the alarm.

Since setting up the two organisations she told the committee that thousands of victims had contacted her.

“We know that justice for victims of romance fraud is tiny. I can’t find an excuse for the behaviours of the police other than that they can’t be bothered,” Rowe said.

The evidence was heard as part of a wider inquiry into fraud. Only one in seven frauds are reported and even cases that are passed on to law enforcement bodies often do not lead to prosecutions.

Fraud is the biggest crime area in England and Wales, with an estimated 3.3m fraud offences committed in the year ending June 2023. This year fraud is likely to cost UK households more than £1bn.

Louise Baxter, the head of the scams team at National Trading Standards, gave evidence about a range of frauds. She told the committee: “This is organised crime. Data is a really valuable commodity, which is trafficked from one organised crime group to another. The criminals move so quickly. They have more resources than we have. It’s like whack-a-mole.”

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