Romance fraud victim loses over £10k
Since lockdown was initiated on 23 March Victim Support Fraud Caseworkers, funded by Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne, have helped 149 vulnerable residents who have been targeted by organised criminals.
With the loneliness of so many being exploited at this time, the most common fraud type they have encountered has been romance scams. This is when organised criminals create fake profiles online and form close relationships with vulnerable people for money.
Victim Support have said that in many cases, people can lose their entire life savings to these scams. This was certainly true for 57-year-old Donna (name has been changed) from East Sussex whose physical disability puts her in the high-risk category and so she has spent a lot of time alone at home.
She was befriended by ‘Fred’ at this particularly lonely time, via a popular social media platform and he was quick to form a close relationship with her.
Over two months, ‘Fred’ gained Donna’s trust and then began requesting money for various personal reasons. In total, he scammed Donna out of £10,500, leaving her in extreme financial difficulties and forced to rely on food bank vouchers just to get by during the crisis.
Donna said; “Being a victim of a Romantic Scam is a very tough thing to admit. You feel a fool because your head was telling you it was wrong, but you just wanted to be loved.
“The police officer who came to see me, after I reported the scam, put me at ease assuring me that it was one of the most common scams and I wasn’t to feel stupid.
“Then Emma from Victim Support came around. She did not just show up once and disappear, she even came with me to Citizens Advice Bureau about the debt I was now in.
“During lockdown she has not left my side. She regularly gets in touch to check in on me, she has been amazing at helping me to get food bank support and has listened and supported me without judging.
“Without this service from both agencies, I don’t like to think what might have happened.”
Her Fraud Caseworker, Emma Allen has been working on a debt management plan for Donna and has arranged for the food bank parcels to be delivered to her house as she continues to self-isolate.
Emma keeps regular contact with Donna and her other clients, worried that as the crisis continues they are at greater risk of future victimisation. She says; “Romance Fraud is very harmful as the scammers play on the victim’s emotions, which can have a detrimental effect on their general wellbeing and mental health. Victims of any scam often feel that they have lost their confidence which can make them susceptible to repeat victimisation. This is why it is so important to tell someone that you think you have been scammed and to report it to seek the support of specialist agencies.”
Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne introduced two Fraud Caseworkers in 2016 to supplement the work of Sussex Police. They offer further support to those, like Donna, identified by Operation Signature - a campaign to recognise and support all vulnerable victims of fraud in Sussex.
Last year, Mrs Bourne awarded a further £57,747 to the caseworkers, who in that time, worked with over 900 vulnerable victims. They offer emotional support, practical guidance and advice on how to spot the signs of future fraudulent activity.
Although Romance Fraud has been a particular problem during lockdown, they have also handled cases relating to: financial abuse; investment fraud; telephone fraud; doorstep fraud; computer fraud; courier fraud and mass marketing fraud.
Mrs Bourne says: “In these particularly challenging times, people’s minds are understandably pre-occupied leaving many feeling lonely and detached from the world around them. This can often lead to people letting their guard down and becoming susceptible to criminals who will then take advantage.
“Those who were vulnerable before, are now even more so and, unfortunately, organised criminals are acutely aware of this.
“That is why the services and specialist skills of our Fraud Caseworkers are so incredibly important.
“I’m really pleased with the work they are doing to successfully protect and support our most vulnerable victims of fraud.
“Please do not hesitate to report if you have fallen victim to this type of crime. Sussex Police take all fraud incredibly seriously, they are vigilant to fraudsters and will proactively seek to bring offenders to justice.”
Anyone can find themselves the victim of fraud. If you suspect you may have been scammed or involved in fraudulent activity, or have information about a possible fraudster, call 101 or contact the police online here: https://www.sussex.police.uk/ro/report/fo/fraud/
Always dial 999 if you or somebody you know is in immediate danger.
Find out about the specialist support available on Safe Space Sussex: https://www.safespacesussex.org.uk/