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Single Britons Being Duped by West African Gangs on Dating Websites
Single Britons looking for love through online dating sites are being defrauded of hundreds of millions of pounds by criminal gangs in West Africa.
Published: 8:38AM BST 01 Jun 2010
Fraudsters in Nigeria and Ghana are creating fictitious profiles with photos of good looking men and women and then sending thousands of scam emails to victims in Britain.
The increasing problem has forced the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) to send officers from its Anti-Kidnap and Extortion Unit to West Africa to help train police there.
Soca has said that millions of Britons are being targeted by organised criminal gangs using the latest mass marketing techniques to defraud them of an estimated £3.5 billion a year.
Police and campaigners have urged victims of scams not to stay silent but to report their experiences as part of an international day of action aimed at raising awareness of fraud.
Scams are becoming more sophisticated and seem more plausible as criminals attempt to keep one step ahead of publicity and law enforcers, according to Soca, one of a number of organisations supporting the day of action.
They have warned that victims not only pay a high personal and financial price for fraud – but that the scams are often used to fund other crimes such as drug dealing and people trafficking.
Many people are now aware of the so-called Nigerian “419” scam letter or email, where fraudsters attempt to lure people into paying money up front in the hope of realising a much larger sum later, it said.
But SOCA warned this scam is only the “tip of the iceberg” of a range of other frauds, including “boiler room” scams where worthless shares are sold at inflated prices to investors, fake lotteries, counterfeit cheque frauds, Ponzi schemes and fraudsters exploiting online seekers of romance.
Soca has intercepted thousands of emails and letters sent to people in Britain which have then been returned with money in them.
The fraudsters start by asking for small amounts and as trust builds they increase the sums asked for.
Police say that often when they inform someone of a scam the victim refuses to believe it because of the trust built up with the fraudster.
This is thought to be a greater problem in cases where people have been duped on internet dating sites.
Bernard Herdan, chief executive officer of the National Fraud Authority, said: “Fraud is a terrible crime yet often people feel embarrassed when they become a victim and so stay silent.
“We want every victim of fraud to report it to and to stand up to fraudsters and help us all work together to make the UK a more hostile environment for fraudsters.”