Valentineâ€™s Day is a chance to throw caution to the wind and let your heart rule over your head. But donâ€™t get carried away with all the roses, chocolate and soppy poems â€“ especially if youâ€™re looking for love online. Valentineâ€™s may be a day for the romantics â€“ but itâ€™s also one for the scammers. Previous research has shown a spike in the reporting of romance fraud around April and March as victims wake up to the fact that theyâ€™ve been duped.
Romance fraud: Donâ€™t let your heart be broken by fraudsters this Valentineâ€™s Day
Weâ€™ve invited one victim, known as Firefly to protect her identity, to talk about how she was fooled into handing over 1,000â‚¬ to a scammer. She now works voluntarily with Scam Survivors to give support to fellow victims and raise awareness of the issue which affects millions of people across the globe.
She said: Itâ€™s not just about losing money. When I discovered Iâ€™d been scammed I felt like Iâ€™d lost everything â€“ I lost my faith in people, I became nothing but a shell.
I was targeted through a dating site in 2011. He seemed decent and polite so we started emailing each other.
He asked me about what my interests were, what books I was reading. I assumed he was just interested in me but now I know thatâ€™s a tactic of scammers â€“ they â€˜researchâ€™ you.
Many victims find themselves filling out a sort of questionnaire â€“ they tell their scammer their name, birthday, where they live, what type of partner theyâ€™re looking for, what they think is an important character trait, even how they react when theyâ€™re upset. Itâ€™s a form of social profiling.
The scammer will then use to that find a niche to fit into their victimâ€™s life.
My scammer asked me about my work days, when he would be able to speak to me. They take over â€“ spending as much time talking to you as possible. Itâ€™s like being brainwashed.
The scammer will call at all times of the day â€“ even in the middle of the night. They want your complete attention and they want complete control; that can mean cutting out friends and family, every social aspect of your life. In some cases the victims are so involved they stop sleeping and eating.
In my case I didnâ€™t have any family or friends around me to warn me that there was a problem â€“ I didnâ€™t tell anyone. I was alone and easy to target.
My scammer got me to use my web cam so he could see me â€“ but he told me his wasnâ€™t working. Weâ€™re now finding that some scammers are so advanced they can fix webcams to project an image of someone talking that isnâ€™t them.
After getting me on the web cam he tried to get me to do sexual things on camera but, thankfully, I was lucky enough to be too old fashioned for that. I later found out that scammers use this kind of footage and pictures as a form of blackmail, also known as â€˜sextortionâ€™, if theyâ€™re ever disobeyed.
Sextortion is a huge problem and bigger than we know because many victims are just too ashamed to speak up about it.
On the Scam Survivors website we have a sextortion form people can sign into so we can get as much information as possible on the scammers.
When the website began four years ago 100 forms were completed in one year â€“ in this past year, that number is expected to reach 6000.
Romance fraudsters target their victims online
I was in a relationship with my scammer for three months, in that time he referred to me as his wife. This is quite common; the victim will be called a â€˜husbandâ€™ or â€˜wifeâ€™ â€“ if theyâ€™ve got children, the scammer refers to them as â€˜our childrenâ€™
My scammer pretended to have a son, this is also quite common. Many create a secondary character, using voice changers to disguise themselves on the phone.
I was convinced the child was real, I spoke to him on the phone. Over a period of three months I sent just over 1,000â‚¬ to him for birthdays and to cover medical costs when he had apparently injured himself at school. Now I know this was all lies.
IF YOU HAVE BEEN A VICTIM OR WOULD LIKE MORE INFORMATION, VISIT Scam SurvivorsÂ
Read about Fireflyâ€™s shocking discovery here tomorrow.