Roehampton Romance Fraud Expert Helps Launch Campaign

Dr Elisabeth Carter highlights techniques used by online scammers


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An expert on romance fraud at the University of Roehampton has been working with police to launch a major initiative to tackle the crime.

Dr Elisabeth Carter, Criminologist and Forensic Linguist has help the City of London Police on a national campaign called Operation Otello.

She has analysed the techniques scammers use to deceive their victims. The research on the matter based on this analysis is believed to be the first of its kind.

Dr Carter said, “For the first time, we have conducted a research into the use of linguistic techniques in communications between scammers and victims to reveal the tactics scammers use to extort money from their victims through romance fraud. What we found has reimagined what scam communication looks like: romance fraud is a long way from badly-written demands for money and has entered the realm of subtle psychological abuse. Our analysis formed the basis of the City of London Police campaign, which will run nationwide throughout October.

“Our study revealed that, far from being stupid or greedy, scam victims are actually subjected to psychological trickery and grooming much like those seen in coercive control, gaslighting and domestic violence and abuse. As more people go online to meet others and find love while Covid-19 social restrictions persist, it is vital the public knows of the warning signs of becoming the victim of a romance fraud.

“Scammers will make their victims feel compelled to protect them, through a sense of duty, compassion or guilt. They can do this by building up trust through having a long-term relationship with their victim, showing their own vulnerabilities, using plausible situations such as difficult life circumstances or health difficulties. Through being groomed by the scammer’s use of language, the victim will often offer money to the scammer without being asked, and when the scammer does ask for money it will be heavily disguised as a call for assistance, a reasonable request for a temporary loan, or an ordinary part of a relationship, so it does not cause alarm. This goes against the usual understandings and warnings about scams that concentrate on explicit demands for money from strangers.

“Undoubtedly this makes it more difficult for victims to spot fraud, but even amidst the subtle linguistic trickery, it is still possible to be alert to warning signs. If the person you’re dating wants to keep your relationship private or warns you against talking to others about it, this is a sign that the relationship is not one you should be in. Do not send money, instead get advice from Action Fraud if you want to send money to someone you haven’t yet met, or if you are the only person who can help a person you love in a situation resolved by money.”

She believes a greater understanding of how romance scammers work can help prevent more of this sort of crime by alerting the public to how subtle their tactics can be.

Dr Carter is also supporting law enforcement campaigns on romance fraud as well as inputting into public-facing fraud prevention literature, including the NHS England safeguarding guidance on scams.

Details of the City of London Police campaign are available online.

October 9, 2020

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