Online dating has become a way in which many people search for – and in some cases even find – love. Sadly, however, not everyone is on the quest for striking up a romance. Rather, some scammers operate online in a bid to con unsuspecting singles out of their hard-earned cash.
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The deceptive activity of luring someone into a relationship by means of a fake online persona is informally referred to as “catfishing”.
Research shows that loneliness around Valentine’s Day makes people 52 percent more susceptible to catfishing scams.
The survey, conducted by cybersecurity company ESET, of more than 2,000 people across the UK found that only 29 percent of respondents said they carried out basic background searches on the people they talk to on dating sites.
This drops to less than one in five (18 percent) of over 55s say that they carry out background searches.
One man, who has chosen not to be named but instead sharing his story under the initials “OC”, fell victim to a cat fishing scam last year.
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Online dating scam: A man (not pictured) explained how he lost £5,000 to the scammer (Image: GETTY)
The HR Director at a large hotel chain, 37, met a woman on a dating site “who seemed really nice”.
“We struck up a relationship over many months and the plan was to meet up,” he said.
OC, who lives in London, began speaking to the fellow online dater over the telephone and video calls on a daily basis – speaking about their lives and families.
“As she supposedly lived in Scotland it was believable that we could not meet up.”
Following their telephone exchanges, OC was set to meet her in real life.
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“I eventually bought a train ticket to visit her,” he said.
“However, days or so before I was supposed to go she contacted me to ask for some money to pay off some money lenders she owed a lot of money to otherwise they would hurt her.”
OC transferred the money, at which point contact stopped. “From then, I never heard from her again,” he recalled. “From constant messages and calls. The number, when you rung it, it was switched off.
“After a couple of days I realised I had been conned.”
“I foolishly agreed and once I paid the money she cut off communication,” he said. “I felt so humiliated and embarrassed to have been so gullible.”
Online dating warning: The contact stopped after the man bank transferred £5,000 into the account (Image: GETTY)
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Jake Moore, Cybersecurity Specialist at ESET, said: “It’s disheartening to see so many bad actors taking advantage of vulnerable and lonely people around Valentine’s Day.
“When emotions are at play, individuals often lose focus of what they need to do to keep themselves safe online, and so can fall victim to scammers who are pretending to be someone that they’re not.”
He added: “If someone you’ve never met in person asks you for money, alarm bells should start ringing immediately.
“Catfishers are excellent storytellers and can tell a very convincing tale about why they need the money.
“They will remain focused on your emotions, so it is vital to stay detached when money is at stake.
Online dating scam: Loneliness around Valentine’s Day makes people 52 percent more susceptible to catfishing scams (Image: GETTY)
“It might be a small request at first – like the cost of a train ticket to come and see you – but typically, once they know you’re willing to give them cash, the frequency and amount will rise.
“Never send money to anyone you haven’t met and if they are genuine, they will understand.”
Sadly for OC, the ordeal has left him with “trust issues” in future relationships.
“I’m very cautious as you might imagine,” he said.
“In my mind I felt ‘Oh she’s falling in love with me’ but really that’s what she wanted me to think, I’m thinking now.”