“The perpetrators will reach out to a lot of people on various networking sites to find somebody who may be a good target.
Nancy*, a 47-year-old single mother from North Yorkshire was conned out of over £350,000 that way: “I wasn't comfortable, and then I got so far in I couldn't get myself out, and I didn't want to walk away having lost £50,000 or what-have-you, so you keep going in the hope that you're wrong and this person is genuine,” she explained to the BBC.
Nancy is now facing bankruptcy, and although her case is extreme, the average victim of online dating fraud loses £10,000 according to Action Fraud.
Victims—predominantly older widowed or divorced women targeted by criminal groups usually from Nigeria—are, for the most part, computer literate and educated. And con artists know exactly how to exploit that vulnerability because potential victims freely post details about their lives and personalities on dating and social media sites.
Trolling for victims online “is like throwing a fishing line,” said Special Agent Christine Beining, a veteran financial fraud investigator in the FBI’s Houston Division who has seen a substantial increase in the number of romance scam cases.
It can happen like this: “Maria” signed up for an online dating service and was contacted by “Andrew,” who claimed to be an American overseas on business in Australia.