Victims of online dating scams feel doubly traumatized

April 18, 2012

Online dating scammers groom their victims by developing 'hyper-personal' relationships which can leave victims feeling doubly traumatised.

This is one of the findings of a study by Professor Monica Whitty, of the University of Leicester, who presents her research at the British Psychological Society Annual Conference today, held at the Grand Connaught Rooms, London (18-20 April).

The research, part of a larger study supported by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), focused on fraud where criminals set up fake identities using stolen photographs (often of models or army officers) and pretend to develop a with their victim. This is often done using and . At some point during the relationship they pretend to be in urgent need of and ask for help. Many have been persuaded to part with large sums of money before their suspicions are aroused.

To find out what techniques scammers use 15 victims were interviewed (11 women; four men). Professor Whitty asked them about their relationship history; what they were in before the ; the full description of the scam; why they believe they were persuaded to part with money (if they did); details of what happened after the scam (e.g. how police dealt with it); how they were psychologically affected by the scam; and what their current state is.

The results showed that basic marketing techniques were used to groom victims, increasing the feelings of a genuine relationship and leaving victims susceptible to fraud.

Professor Whitty said: "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.

"This is a concern not solely because people are losing large sums of money to these criminals, but also because of the 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."

Elsewhere in the study Dr Tom Buchanan (University of Westminster) looked at the psychological characteristics of victims. Over 1000 participants answered an online questionaire. The reponses showed that people with strong romantic beliefs, who idealised romantic partners were most likely to fall prey to online scammers.

Explore further: Romance scams online hit hundreds of thousands of victims

Related Stories

Romance scams online hit hundreds of thousands of victims

September 27, 2011

New online research led by the University of Leicester reveals that over 200,000 people living in Britain may have fallen victim to online romance scams – far more than had been previously estimated. The study is believed ...

Recommended for you

Elderly may face increased dementia risk after a disaster

October 24, 2016

Elderly people who were uprooted from damaged or destroyed homes and who lost touch with their neighbors after the 2011 tsunami in Japan were more likely to experience increased symptoms of dementia than those who were able ...

Research examines role of early-life stress in adult illness

October 24, 2016

Scientists have long known that chronic exposure to psychosocial stress early in life can lead to an increased vulnerability later in life to diseases linked to immune dysfunction and chronic inflammation, including arthritis, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.