The study revealed that of those surveyed, 2% of people new someone who had experienced an Internet dating scam, which when taking into account the online UK population amounts to over 200,000 potential victims.
The study was aimed at identifying the potential scale of the problem, as experts have long since suspected that the official figures under represent the true prevalence of the issue due to many victims feeling too humiliated or distressed to report the incident to officials.
The scams typically involve criminals creating a false online identify (often of an army officer or someone on active service so they have an excuse not to meet their victim), before developing a close relationship with another person online, who is then asked for money to help their potential suitor out of a crisis.
Leicester University psychologist, Monica Whitty has said that many people find it extremely difficult to accept what has happened to them, even if they know the person who conned them is now in jail.
The faked relationships can last a long time, so victims often face heartbreak when they discover the person with whom they were in love with does not really exist.
According to the UK’s National Fraud Authority, only a small number of cases are recorded, with only 730 coming to light over the past 15 months, amounting to £8m in losses.
Whilst it is positive that individuals are beginning to come forward and report these problems, a huge number of people still remain at risk and must learn more about how to stay safe online.
Colin Woodcock of Soca commented “By being aware of how to stay safe online, members of the UK public can ensure they don’t join those who have lost nearly every penny they had, been robbed of their self-respect, and in some cases, committed suicide after being exploited, relentlessly, by these criminals.”
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View the original Guardian report.