Chief Inspector Jonathan Wilson said: “While many people use online dating sites and apps without problems, unfortunately there are scammers who use false names to befriend victims through social media. The exchange may start with flirting and flattery, but usually ends with the victim being coaxed into sending intimate images or videos. This is followed by demands for money to prevent the sharing of images with friends and family online.
“Behind a fake and attractive personality lies a criminal. These people are often part of sophisticated and organized crime groups, mostly based overseas, and they use a range of scams to extort their victims.
“We were contacted last week by a man who was befriended on an online dating site by a woman who claims to be from England. The conversation moved from a dating site to WhatsApp and Google Hangout, and over time the relationship developed to the point where this woman was asking for help with her bills, claiming she had medical expenses she needed to cover. Believing it to be a real relationship, the man helped her and sent the funds via bank transfer. They also started sharing intimate photos and videos. Soon the man began to threaten and demand money. Luckily, he told us about it and we are now investigating.
“Please be aware of the risks of online dating and sharing intimate images online; and if someone pushes you to do it, then alarm bells should ring. If you have been the victim of a romantic scam or sexual extortion, then you are certainly not alone. Do not panic; do not respond to requests; and not engage in further communication. If you can, confide in a trusted friend or family member; and please contact us immediately on 101.”
· Stay in the app. Always stay connected on the dating site or app you use. Many of them have built-in security and support, and take steps to remove and block fake accounts to keep you safer.
· Check their social networks. Do your own research on the person, checking their social media presence to see if it matches what is written on the dating site. Examining key details such as name, location, and family members can help spot inconsistencies in what you’ve been told.
· Check out their photo. Profile pictures can be deceiving and taken from anywhere on the internet. You can use various photo verification websites with a reverse image search to make sure the photo is valid.
· Never send money to someone you have not met in person. If you are looking for friendship, communication or love on the Internet, it should never start with asking for money, and if so, then it should not be friends or relationships.
Resist temptation and do not get into compromising situations. Trust your intuition and stop uncomfortable situations immediately.
· Always remember that what goes online may well stay online.
· Be careful who you invite or accept on social networking sites. Don’t accept friend requests from complete strangers.
· Update your privacy settings on your social media accounts so that only people you know can view your account.
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