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Love hurts: the costly reality of online romance fraud

Author

Lecturer te Criminology, Queensland University of Technology

Disclosure statement

Cassandra Cross receives funding from the Criminology Research Grants program.

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Queensland University of Technology provides funding spil a member of The Conversation AU.

The Conversation UK receives funding from Hefce, Hefcw, SAGE, SFC, RCUK, The Nuffield Foundation, The Ogden Trust, The Royal Society, The Wellcome Trust, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and The Alliance for Useful Evidence, spil well spil sixty five university members.

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Online dating and romance scams proceed to lure ter Australians with figures this week demonstrating people have lost more than A$23 million this year alone, with media individual losses at A$21,000 – three times higher than other types of fraud.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) set up the Scam Disruption Project te August to help target those it believes have bot caught te such scams. Overheen three months it sent 1,500 letters to potential victims ter Fresh South Wales and the Australian Caudal Territory.

The figures released this week display that 50 people have bot scammed, losing a total A$1.7 million – that’s an promedio of A$34,000 vanaf victim. Almost three quarters of the scams were dating and romance related, which witnessed it evolve into the number one category of fraud victimisation.

Romance scams proceed to pose a problem – despite the efforts of the police and ACCC – so why is it that people proceed to fall for them?

Very first voeling

From my practice interviewing victims, it starts out innocently. An online message from a dating webstek or social media, a “like”, a “wink” or a “kiss”. After that initial connection, it moves to an off-site messenger service. Long conversations, day and night, overheen email, messenger or the telephone.

Overheen days, weeks, months or even years a relationship develops. But then it happens – the request for money. It may be a few hundred dollars or it may be several thousand. The request can be for a medical emergency, a travel request or any number of things.

By that stage, the level of trust and rapport is so strong and the level of perceived proximity so fine, that the victim conforms and sends money. For so many, that very first transfer is the beginning of a heartbreaking and costly journey.

But spil the ACCC points out:

Whatever the story, merienda the victim pays a scammer the money is gone and the chance of everzwijn recovering the loss is almost nil.

To prevent such losses the ACCC began its Scam Disruption Project to seek out potential victims and attempt to zekering them sending money overseas.

This goes after similar approaches undertaken ter other jurisdictions, notably Project Sunbird te Película del Oeste Australia, which exemplifies a proactive way to combat this type of fraud.

Spil an outsider, it is difficult to understand how a person becomes a victim. It seems somewhat shocking that a person could send large amounts of money to a person they have not met te person.

It’s too effortless to blame the victim, hold them responsible for their loss and reinforce the shame and guilt they are already feeling. But this overlooks the role of the offenders te this situation and the ways te which they employ high level manipulation, exploitation and social engineering tactics to ensure compliance from their victims.

We’re more open online

Everyone has a weakness or vulnerability. Being human implies that wij are all fallible. For those seeking relationships online, their weakness is the desire to find love.

Studies which explore characteristics of online relationships have found enlargened self-disclosures online compared to face-to-face interactions.

Combined with research which asserts online communication spil the enabler of “hyperpersonal relationships” (overly intense relationships), this literature helps framework how individuals are manipulated into losing money to someone they have not physically met.

Love can soon blossom online despite no face to face voeling. Flickr/Victory of the People, CC BY-NC-ND

Overheen the years, I’ve interviewed around 150 victims and they do not getraind a prescribed stereotype. The idea that victims are greedy and stupid is simply a myth used to perpetuate the idea that “we” cannot be victims, that “we” are different to those who become victims and that “we” are too clever and impenetrable to any type of fraud.

Instead, I’ve found that romance fraud affects boys and women, youthful and old (tho’ older people are more attractive targets), from a diversity of educational, occupational and socio-economic backgrounds.

I’ve also found that people cope differently from this practice: some are angry, some are depressed, some talk of suicide, while others spend every waking hour attempting to figure out how they were scammed and attempt to prevent it happening to others.

There are still many victims who are not able to come to terms with what is happening and despite intervention from family, friends and even law enforcement, they reject to acknowledge the deception.

CASE Examine: A woman te hier 50s wasgoed approached by a man ter America. She developed a relationship with him, which included hier talking and emailing his “daughter”. She lost $A30,000 before she realised it wasgoed a fraud and stopped sending money.

But she became a victim te a secondary scam, from bankgebouw officials te another country claiming hier “husband” had opened an account ter hier name. She lost another $A30,000 attempting to access thesis funds.

She reconnected with the innovador man, believing that they both may have bot scammed by this banking official and that she might be able to proceed hier relationship with him. Te the process, she has lost all hier savings, hier house, hier job and it waterput immense strain on hier relationships with family and friends.

This case probe is typical and from the outside it is effortless to see that the person is being scammed, yet they proceed to waterput themselves at the grace of the offenders.

But this just demonstrates the level of manipulation that exists ter thesis relationships spil well spil the strength and power of the unie that offenders are able to establish to continually persuade the victim that their “love” is actual.

Media are littered with other stories of boys and women who have suffered at the palms of online offenders, and are fully aware of what happened. Thesis people have not only had to overeenkomst with the financial influence of the fraud but also grieve the loss of the relationship which formed the central part of the ruse.

Then there are those who have shouldered the cargo te muffle, fearful of the reaction they would get from family, friends and law enforcement agencies.

For the courageous victims who do come forward and disclose, ter many instances there situation is dismissed by their family and friends, they are further stigmatised ter thesis circles and incapable to get any acknowledgement about what happened from law enforcement and other agencies. This only further traumatises the victim and reinforces their existing notions of self-blame.

Avoiding the heartache

Ter terms of prevention, it is difficult to promote a message which encompasses the complexity of online romance fraud. But it has to be more than cliched responses of “if it seems too good to be true, it most likely is” or caveats such spil “don’t send money to people you don’t know”.

A elementary solution that’s hard to go after for some people. Flickr/Donna, CC BY-NC-SA

Thesis are irrelevant te this situation. Rather, prevention needs to come te the form of acknowledgement, of recognising the fact that no one is immune to fraud when using online dating to find relationships.

Instead, it should be a simplistic message that concentrates on one key factor: the protection of money across all circumstances.

Despite the reality of romance fraud, it shouldn’t act spil a catalyst to abandon the search for love online. Instead, it should serve spil a warning. No matter where the online relationship is at, if a request comes through for money, the response should always be a stiff “no”.

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