Online Dating Scams Can Take Emotional, Financial Toll

THURSDAY, April 19 (HealthDay News) -- Online dating scams leave many victims feeling doubly traumatized, according to a small new study.

This is because scammers not only try to steal money from their victims but hoodwink them by pretending to have a meaningful connection with them. Victims therefore lose both their money and what they believed was a significant relationship.

The U.K. study included 11 women and 4 men who were victims of online dating scams. Participants provided a full description of the scam and were asked questions such as why they believe they fell victim and how they were mentally affected by the scam.

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, said Professor Monica Whitty of the University of Leicester.

"Our data suggests that the numbers of British victims of this relatively new crime is much higher than reported incidents show," Whitty said in a university news release. "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 psychological impact experienced by victims of this crime," she added. "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."

The study also found that people most likely to fall victim to online romantic scams are those with strong romantic beliefs who idealized romantic partners.

The findings were to be presented April 19 at the annual meeting of the British Psychological Society, in London.

More information

The U.S. Department of State has more about online romance and dating scams.

SOURCE: University of Leicester, news release, April 18, 2012

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