Dating sites mask internet criminals

The police are warning that online dating sites have become a haven for paedophiles and criminals.

In a recent article in the Sunday Times, it emerged that the police were investigating a significant number of child rapes and child sex offences including kidnapping and violent sexual assault that were carried out using online dating apps.

According to the Sunday Times: “Detectives have investigated more than 30 incidents of child rape since 2015 where victims evaded age checks on dating apps only to be sexually exploited. One 13-year-old boy on Grindr was raped or abused by at least 21 men.

“Documents reveal 60 further cases of child sex offences via online dating services, including grooming, kidnapping and violent sexual assault.”

Responding to the Sunday Times report, the Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright called the findings “truly shocking” and has written to the companies behind the apps demanding better safeguards.

While the City of London Police have revealed that criminals targeting lonely people to trick money out of them via dating websites are being reported to the police at the rate of one every three hours and cost people in the UK £27m a year.

A trend that the CSRI’s sister publication Future Intelligence examines in its February issue of PassW0rd the monthly radio documentary programme broadcast on Resonance FM.

In, ‘Does technology bring us together or isolate us’, we interviewed a number of experts who pointed out that many of the web technologies designed to overcome loneliness must be used with care because criminal abuse of the systems can result in physical, financial and emotional damage to the unwary and the vulnerable.

Meanwhile his colleague UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been meeting tech company bosses including Google, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest to tackle the graphic images of self-harm that are leading lonely people to consider suicide. Hancock was formerly the Minister for Digital. He is the founder of an online startup and uses a smartphone app as his doctor, instead of being registered with a GP.

Both Hancock, Wright and government advisers are gearing up for new laws to curb what they call “internet harms”.

While in the run up to Valentines’ Day, the City of London police, which specialises in financial crimes, has made a YouTube video to warn lonely hearts not to put themselves or their savings at risk.

So does technology mean that we can meet the love of our life, or lead a happy and fulfilled life or does it open the door to the thug of your life?

Speaking on the Password radio show, love coach Eric Hegmann points that singles who experience rejection in an online dating service become more defensive and less likely to attract a new partner. This sets up a vicious circle. And he admits that, while algorithms can be successfully at matching people with similar interests, they are still far from able to predict who will fall in love.

And Trelawney Kerrigan laid some more of the risks in another interview that prospective partners you meet online are not always who they claim to be.

“You’re actually meeting complete strangers. Some people might want to appear as someone else in a kind of fantasy, but if you are seriously looking for love then you need to know that the person is genuine.”

Kerrigan insists that only traditional matchmaking sites like the ones she advises are truly safe. They scrutinize the singles’ homes, check for criminal offences and verify passports and addresses before allowing them to post a profile.

That advice came too late for Marcel Kooter, an oil industry consultant from Woolwich in South East London. In February 2019 he managed to win back more than £180,000 pounds in a court case from the Bulgarian woman he met on Tinder who claimed to be single and an investment banker but was neither, just the latest case to come to court from the 4,555 online dating cons investigated in 2018.

The statistics on the online dating fraudsters also showed that the average age of a romance fraud victim is 50 and that 63% of dating fraud victims are female. They lose twice as much on average than males – even though this is not a new crime and has been known about for over a hundred years.  An Edwardian version of the romance scam has even been acted out in theatres across Europe and the USA in Karoline Leach’s 1997 thriller The Mysterious Mr Love. It ends badly, in a guest house in Weston super Mare – a cautionary tale.

An old crime that has now gone online and frequently abroad with many of those conning lonely hearts coming from the former Eastern Bloc and Africa as well as the UK. Perhaps because this is a well-known modus operandi for criminals, Action Fraud believes that the official statistics do not accurately represent the true scale of the problem. Some people may feel embarrassed to have fallen victim which may discourage them from coming forward to report their experience.

The City of London police recommend that if you believe you might have been chatting online to a fraudster you should report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre by calling 0300 123 20 40 or by visiting www.actionfraud.police.uk

But dating aside for many the online world has given them a life-line, and the relationships that can be fostered are just as real as those we experience walking down the street. In a moving final interview Robert Steen tells us of the rich life his severely disabled 25-year-old son Mats had via the online gaming community of World of Warcraft.

One of Mat’s online friends told Robert: “We meet, we talk, we eat turtle soup together, we run around lakes, we have competitions, or we just tease each other.

“From all of those stories which we learned after he had passed away we learnt that he did not only experience relationships, friendships being in love but also that he was an important part of forming other people’s happiness and life.

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