The sad case was revealed in papers to the latest Safer Stockton Partnership amid a rise in romance cons preying on vulnerable Teessiders. Figures from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) showed a big rise in romance fraud cases reported between November 2020 and October last year.
But there are fears the problem is likely to be much worse due to under-reporting. A report to the Stockton group showed how the council’s adult safeguarding team sought help from trading standards officials when they were concerned someone they were helping may have been a scam victim.
It added: “One such referral involved a local resident who had lost over £10k to a scammer in Nigeria as a result of a romance scam.” Advice and intervention from the authority and the police stopped the victim making more payments.
Statistics from NFIB showed a staggering £14.6m was lost from romance scams in May 2021. Last year, another tragic Stockton case was highlighted where a victim believed they were speaking to 1980s film star Sylvester Stallone.
Calum Titley, from the council’s adult safeguarding team, previously said they’d seen cases where fraudsters had posed as celebrities and members of the US military.
He said: “We had a sad case last year where someone genuinely thought they were communicating with Sylvester Stallone – and they were actually prepared to part with a lot of money to get them to come over to England.
“It very much comes back to the fact these scammers are very skillful in finding vulnerabilities and preying upon them. We need to try and stay ahead of scammers – and come up with material to try and educate people that this type of scam is happening.”
Dave Mead, from the Cleveland Victim, Care and Advice service (VCAS), confirmed they had seen a rise in romance cons on Teesside. And he offered a warning in the wake of the ongoing strife in Ukraine.
Mr Mead said: “We speak to everyone who has been a victim of a romance scam. Again, quite often it’s people who’ve purported to be soldiers and charity workers. And with what’s happening at the moment in Ukraine, it will happen where there’ll be people on dating sites who say they’ll need money to help children and they’ll play on that.
“The terrible situation now lends itself to vulnerable people being hooked by those pretending to be heroes.” While romance fraud cases linked to the Ukraine conflict haven’t been seen yet on Teesside, Mr Mead believed it was only a matter of time.
He added: “All the things which criminals need are for someone to really care about something very strongly, feel they want to do more, and have a need for companionship.” Romance scam victims can face devastating emotional and financial damage.
Fake profiles online see fraudsters build relationships over weeks and months to ask for money, or gain enough personal details to steal someone’s identity. However, red flags can be spotted to weed out criminals.
Signs of romance scams
- They are reluctant to video call or meet in person
- They ask you a lot of questions about yourself and share little about themselves that can be checked or verified
- The discussion is friendly at first, however quickly turns romantic
- Scammers often use duplicated profile pictures
- Some scammers claim to live in the UK when in fact they reside in another country – tell tales signs can be poor grammar, spelling or grasp of the English language
- Asking for money for medical care for themselves of an ill relative
- Asking for money for travel to the UK to meet you
- Asking for money to pay their phone bill or rent
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