Online Dating: UK Romance Fraud Booming

Huge number of Brits have been exposed to scams, lies and revenge porn while seeking love online, according to a study by antivrus provider Norton.

Two in five online daters in the UK have been spammed or scammed by prospective partners. Out of those who have shared saucy photos or videos of themselves, almost a third have been threatened with the public release of these images or videos, also known as ‘revenge porn’.


As many as one in ten online daters who have shared risqué photos have had someone release the images without their consent. In addition, more than a quarter have fallen victim to “catfishing”, wherein a user assumes a false identity to trick someone into an online romantic relationship.

The study, which surveyed 3,038 mobile users aged 18-34 across the UK, France and Germany, shows 56 percent of UK respondents have used an online dating site, spending an average of 17 days a year on them in search for a partner. Despite this investment, the extent to which people can trust those they meet online remains to be seen.

Almost half (48 percent) of online daters have lied about themselves online, misrepresenting their weight (47 percent), physical appearance (50 percent) and interests (48 percent). The research found that men are more likely to misrepresent themselves in their online dating profiles (51 percent of men versus 45 percent of women) and Brits are the most likely (compared to their German and French counterparts) to lie on all categories except income (where Germans come top).

One-quarter (26 percent) lie about their relationship status and 19 percent have used online dating to have an affair. In fact, 43 percent of UK online daters have met someone online thinking they were single, only to find out they were already in a relationship.

As online dating becomes the norm for developing new relationships, it is also becoming a means to compromise individual reputations and create a new phishing pond for scammers. Scammers are using online dating sites as ways of tricking people into handing over money or entering a false relationship. Nearly a third (31 percent) of online daters have been asked for money or financial help.

Nick Shaw, GM of Norton EMEA, said: “Scammers are naturally attracted to large online communities and the surge in online dating among millennials makes these sites a prime target.

“As with any relationship, trust is key and people should never share images or personal information before they are sure they can trust the person on the receiving end. In the online world, as with anything in life, people aren’t always what they seem and while there are many legitimate daters on these sites, you still don’t fully know what kinds of people you’re dealing with. Therefore it’s important that you are vigilant so you can enjoy dating online without placing yourself in a vulnerable position.”

Tony Neate, CEO of GetSafeOnline, said: “What always strikes me with romance fraud is how fraudsters invest a huge amount of time and effort into building a relationship with someone, knowing that they can potentially reap a bigger reward the more they build trust and intimacy.

“But there are always clear warning signs to look out for with this kind of fraud in particular – it is highly unlikely that anyone legitimate would ask for any kind of financial assistance, also, never be pressured into giving personal details like home addresses or card numbers. I always say take the same approach to safety as you’d take in the physical dating world – don’t rush into things and report anything suspicious.

“In many cases, looking at the relationship through rose-tinted glasses can prevent victims noticing these signs, so I would also always recommend speaking to family or friends if there are any doubts, just to get a second, more objective opinion.”

Psychologist Professor Monica Whitty said: “Approximately 500,000 adults in the UK have fallen victim to a dating or romance scam. These scams can have both financial and psychological costs. In fact, the psychological impact can sometimes outweigh the financial, even when large sums of money are lost.”

“Although dating sites are improving their methods to help prevent scams (e.g., providing information for daters about the scam on their websites), online daters often find it difficult to spot a scammer just based on their profile. It’s also difficult to help a victim break away from a scammer once they have been ‘groomed’. My advice to online daters is to meet the person behind the profile within the first few weeks to ensure it’s an authentic profile. If that person makes excuses not to meet then move on.”

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Duncan Macrae

Duncan MacRae is former editor and now a contributor to TechWeekEurope. He previously edited Computer Business Review's print/digital magazines and CBR Online, as well as Arabian Computer News in the UAE.

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