Police warn online daters over romance fraudsters using TikTok, Facebook and Whatsapp to pose as celebrities
Con artists have pretended to be famous people such as chef James Martin and singer Gary Barlow to catfish their victims and dupe them out of their money
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Nottinghamshire Police said the scam is part of a trend where fraudsters pose as celebrities on dating profiles in a bid to trick fans - and then steal their money.
Reports of romance fraud have “soared” in recent years, the force said, but the true extent of it remains unknown as many victims are too embarrassed to come forward. The force revealed that it received 12 reports of such cases in September and another 11 in August.
Three of these involved celebrity impersonators who created fake profiles to “catfish” their victims into believing that they were a famous face, before gaining their trust and getting them to hand over their money. Catfishing relates to pretending to be someone you’re not, often by using photos of someone else, or by lying about certain aspects of your identity. The purpose of catfishing is to mislead someone in some way, and the consequences can be very damaging for the victims, emotionally and, when scams are involved, also financially.
Fraudsters impersonated James Martin and Gary Barlow
Investigations also spoke about how social media was used to con the victims. The woman scammed by the James Martin impersonator, who has not been named by police, initially ignored three Facebook messages before the scammer managed to convince her he was the ITV star. The fraudster eventually persuaded her to lend them money, which was never repaid.
In another case, another unidentified vulnerable woman was persuaded to purchase and transfer Steam Gift Cards after believing she had been talking to Il Divo singer Urs Buhler for two months. A third woman was tricked into sending explicit images to a romance fraudster she believed was Take That frontman Gary Barlow. The fraudster then threatened to share the images, which she sent to them on TikTok, with her friends and family.
Detective Sergeant Tara Clapperton, from the force’s fraud prevention team, said the scammers tend to target their victims on dating apps or social media, but often then try to move the conversation onto other platforms such as WhatsApp.
She added that they will often claim to be living or working abroad to explain why they cannot meet in person and will invent reasons not to turn their camera on during calls. Eventually, she said, they will start to tell stories about family or legal issues, business problems or medical bills.
She continued that they may be reluctant to accept help at the beginning but this is “all part of the con”, and victims eventually end up being persuaded to send more and more money.
Reasons for alarm bells to ring
Detective Sergeant Clapperton added: “A lot of people hear about these scams and think ‘I wouldn’t be taken in by that’. But these scams are clever and that’s why it’s really important people exercise vigilance communicating with others online.
“Online dating can be a fun and empowering experience, but to avoid becoming a victim to romance fraud, it’s really important people follow some really simple advice: If you’ve started an online relationship and the discussion turns to money – regardless of the reason or the amounts involved – then alarm bells should be ringing.
She also had a very serious message for anybody who is dating online, or speaking in any way, to someone they have never met in real life: “Never send money to people you’ve never met in person, no matter how much you’ve spoken online.” She also advised that people should talk to a real-life friend or family member about their communication with people online as this “can be a good way to sense check what’s going on."