Online dating scams have tricked more than 200,000 Brits, a new survey shows.
Between 2009 and 2010, a British woman named Kate Roberts was tricked into giving $130,000 to a man she met on an online dating site, a U.S. solider named Mark Ray Smith.
Believing Smith was her soul mate — he sent her pictures, confided in her through email, sent letters on (forged) military stationery, even talked with her on the phone — Roberts ended up wiring her online suitor bundles of cash so he could "buy his way out of the army."
Then the correspondence stopped.
Roberts' story, unfortunately, is more common than you'd think. According to a new study conducted by professors from the University of Leicester and the University of Westminster in Britain, more than 200,000 Britons have been duped by similar online dating scams promising romance, and, ultimately, ending in heartbreak and an empty bank account when the target realizes his or her true love was nothing more than a crook.
The researchers found that 52 percent of people polled were familiar with these types of online dating scams, in which the criminals set up fake identities using photos, often of soldiers or models, and then, as the Telegraph put it, "spend long periods of time grooming their victims before pretending to be in urgent need of money and asking for help."
The online survey of more than 2,028 people was conducted in July through the consulting firm YouGuv with the help of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). From the survey, the researchers were able to estimate that more than 1 million people know someone who has fallen prey to an online romance scam.
Action Fraud, Britain's national fraud-reporting center, reported 592 victims of these crimes between 2010 and 2011. Out of these victims, 203 people lost more than $7,000.
The financial loss can, in some cases, be much greater. The SOCA said it has seen romance scams net criminals as much as $375,000. Besides the money, there's the loss of what the victims believed was a real romantic connection, according to Monica Whitty, a professor of contemporary media at the University of Leicester and a leader of the study.
"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 monies and a 'romantic relationship,' Whitty said in a press release.
The survey, in fact, may be only half the story, as it is thought that many victims don't come forward with their stories for fear of embarrassment or ridicule.
"It may well be that the shame and upset experienced by the victims deters them from reporting the crime," Whitty said.
This story was provided by SecurityNewsDaily, a sister site to LiveScience.