London: Hundreds of
thousands of people in Britain may have been hit or duped by
online romance scams, far more than previous estimates.
The study undertaken by Monica Whitty and Tom Buchanan,
psychologists at the Universities of Leicester and Westminster, is
probably the first formal academic analysis of the pervasive scam.
Criminals often set up fake identities on dating and social
networking sites, using stolen photographs (of models or army
officers) and pretend to develop a romantic relationship with
Such scamsters have persuaded many to part with large sums of
money before their suspicions are aroused, often on emotive or
humanitarian grounds, according to a Leicester statement.
Even when victims cannot, or will not, send money, scammers
involve them in laundering money by asking them to accept money
into their bank accounts.
Researchers surveyed over 2,000 people through an online YouGov
survey and estimated from the results that over 200,000 British
citizens have fallen victim to the crime.
"This is a concern not solely because people are losing large sums
of money to these criminals, but also because of the psychological
impact experienced by victims of this crime," said Whitty,
professor of psychology at Leicester.
"It is our view that the trauma caused by this scam is worse than
any other, because of the 'double hit' experienced by the victims
- loss of monies and a 'romantic relationship'," Whitty added.
"It may well be that the shame and upset experienced by the
victims deters them from reporting the crime. We thus believe new
methods of reporting the crime are needed," added Whitty.
According to the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), romance
fraud is organised crime, usually operating from outside Britain.
Colin Woodcock, SOCA's senior manager for fraud prevention, said:
"SOCA has worked hard to understand the nature of this crime and
how it can be tackled, and this study provides further insights
into the extent to which it is affecting people."