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19 April 2012
Dating scams leave victims doubly traumatized
by George Atkinson

Online dating scammers utilize "hyper-personal" relationships which University of Leicester psychologist Monica Whitty says can leave victims feeling doubly traumatized. She presented her study on dating scams at this week's British Psychological Society Annual Conference.

Her research focused on fraud where criminals set up fake identities using stolen photographs (often of models or army officers) and pretend to develop a romantic relationship with their victim. This is most often done on online dating sites or social networking sites. At some point during the relationship they pretend to be in urgent need of money and ask for help. Many victims had been persuaded to part with large sums of money before their suspicions are aroused.

To find out more about the scammers' techniques, Whitty interviewed victims about their relationship history; what psychological state they were in before the scam; the full description of the scam; why they believe they were persuaded to part with money; details of what happened after the scam; how they were psychologically affected by the scam; and what their current state is.

Interestingly, the reponses showed that people with strong romantic beliefs, who idealized romantic partners were the most likely to fall prey to online scammers.

Whitty's findings showed that basic marketing techniques were used to groom victims, increasing the feelings of a genuine relationship and leaving victims susceptible to fraud. "Our data suggests that the numbers of British victims of this relatively new crime is much higher than reported incidents show. It also confirms law enforcement suspicions that this is an underreported crime, and thus more serious than first thought."

She added that the scam typically had a double-whammy effect on victims. As well as losing large sums of money to these criminals, there was also a psychological impact experienced by victims of this crime. "It is our view that the trauma caused by this scam is worse than any other, because of the 'double hit' experienced by the victims - loss of money and loss of 'romantic relationship.'"

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Source: University of Leicester

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