Joining together to fight romance scams on Valentine's Day
14 February 2019
Suffolk and Norfolk County Council Trading Standards marked Valentine’s Day by hosting a conference to raise awareness of romance scams and what can be done to tackle them.
The event explored the wider financial, emotional and health impacts of romance scams, as well as some of the reasons people fall victim to scams, for example those who feel socially isolated and lonely.
A romance scam is typically a confidence trick where scammers pull on victims’ heart strings who are ultimately convinced to send money to the scammer. The scammer will gain the victim’s affection and use that goodwill to commit fraud. The scam can be elaborate, personal and can last for years.
Councillor Richard Rout, Cabinet Member for Environment and Public Protection at Suffolk County Council said: “Events like today are incredibly important to make people aware of these scams and their growing sophistication. Anyone can fall victim to these scammers as they often come across as incredibly genuine, but we must keep on our guard and look out for friends, family and neighbours, particularly those who live alone or are vulnerable.
“The Council has a duty to protect the public. By bringing together over 100 delegates from more than 60 organisations to this conference, we hope many more people are now aware of how romance scammers operate and the signs to look out for. By sharing this knowledge with our colleagues and networks, we can hopefully save more people from financial loss, emotional upset and inevitably poor health.”
One recent example saw a retired vicar conned out of £8,000 following years of handwritten correspondence with who he thought was a mother with HIV, living in Uganda. It wasn’t until he happened to read a magazine article about other people’s identical experiences, that his suspicions were raised. He contacted the National Trading Standards Scams Team who confirmed it was a scam and there was likely to be no lady.
Cllr Margaret Dewsbury, Chairman of Norfolk County Council’s Communities Committee said: “Romance scams are under-reported and I can understand why victims can feel uncertain about coming forward. However, I would encourage anyone who thinks they may have been a victim, to report it as you are likely to help others who are the next to be targeted by these criminals.”
"This conference is crucial in bringing together colleagues from local authorities, the voluntary sector, local business and communities. By continuing to work in partnership we can make sure messages are shared as widely as possible to help stop people falling victim to these cruel scammers.”
The common thread amongst the conference speakers was that the general misconception is that scam victims are foolish or gullible, when in fact many victims are everyday people making reasonable decisions. Scammers use incredibly sophisticated methods to target victims and use emotion and language to manipulate them.
The scam letter, email or message that you may receive is usually the tip of the iceberg to much more complex, organised crime. Often, the criminal network is international and worth billions of pounds, which can be used to fund further criminal activity, for example the purchase of weapons.
The conference, held at Trinity Park in Ipswich, heard from renowned speakers such as Dr Elisabeth Carter (Senior Lecturer in Criminology, University of Roehampton), Professor Keith Brown (Director of the National Centre for Post Qualifying Social Work and Professional Practice at Bournemouth University), Anna Crispe (Head of Knowledge and Intelligence at Suffolk County Council), Richard Clarke (National Trading Standards Scams Team Investigator) and Paul Maskall (Cyber Security and Privacy Consultant). It was funded using confiscated proceeds of crime, which is money recovered from successful criminal convictions.
If you believe you are a victim of a scam, or know someone who has been targeted, you can report it to the national Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06 or via their online reporting form.