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Romance fraud: Scammers move beyond dating websites to prey on innocent victims

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PREYING on players on games websites, using fake photos, and fabricating family emergencies. Police have listed just some of the ways romance fraudsters find their victims and scam them into sending hundreds or thousands of pounds.

Dyfed-Powys Police’s Economic Crime Team is urging people to have their wits about them as it deals with an increasing number of romance fraud cases as people look for friendship or love online.

As part of Dyfed-Powys Police’s INTACT campaign, a communication, education and enforcement campaign led by the force’s Serious Violence and Organised Crime Team, the potentially life-shattering consequences of falling foul of a romance fraud are being highlighted this month.

Fraud safeguarding officer Rebecca Jones said: “We have had victims who have lost their life’s savings, have had to sell their homes, and are completely destroyed after sending huge amounts of money to someone they thought they were in a relationship with.

“Aside from the financial aspect, these victims have lost trust in themselves and others, find it very difficult to open up about what they have been through, and feel totally isolated while trying to recover emotionally.”

Romance fraud is described as when someone creates a fake identity to enter into a relationship with a victim, with the intent to steal either funds or personal information. However, while this kind of crime is also known as a dating scam, relationships are not solely started through dating websites as is frequently believed.

“We do get a number of victims who have gone online to find romance, and have ended up being targeted by criminals,” Rebecca said.

“However, we are now finding that fraudsters are moving into different areas. We have had incidents where two people have met on a games website, where the victim had no intention of finding a partner, and even where a writer had posted work online and was contacted by a scammer who eventually asked for several thousands of pounds.

“As scammers constantly adapt the way they prey on victims, we are urging people to be cautious in all areas of their online lives.”

Despite using various types of websites to seek out unsuspecting victims, the majority of romance fraud incidents follow a similar pattern.

First, trust is gained and a relationship is built up. Then the scammer moves on to asking for money – claiming they have a family or medical emergency, or saying they will use the funds buy a flight ticket to visit their partner. Once this money has been sent, the criminal will keep coming up with new reasons for more money to be sent.

In two recent cases investigated by Dyfed-Powys Police, fraudsters have used photos of international models to set up fake accounts. In one instance, the scammer uploaded a photo of a model with her son, in an attempt to make their victim believe they had a family who needed financial help.

“We do find that victims can be lured in by attractive photos, and very often they do not suspect that these photos have been sourced online,” Rebecca said.

“We know it goes against people’s trusting instincts, but we would highly recommend putting any photos they are sent through a reverse image checker to find the original source. While this is not a fool proof solution, it does offer a layer of protection.”

The Economic Crime Team has also warned that once victims have cut off contact with a scammer, they will still try to find ways of getting in touch with new claims for needing money.

“One of the victims we were supporting continued to receive contact from a person claiming to be a doctor asking for money to cover medical bills, while another posed as a police officer in a series of Skype messages.

“We can’t be sure if the victim told the offender they had reported them, or if they became suspicious after all contact suddenly stopped, but it goes to show the lengths they will take to try and keep the scam going.”

The team also warned that romance fraud can move beyond sending money to the criminal, with victims becoming money mules or being coerced into sextortion.

DC Gareth Jordan said: “Money muling is where the victim is asked to have funds put into their bank account, which is then transferred to someone else. “This is a crime, and we have experienced victims becoming distraught at finding out they have unknowingly broken the law in having their bank account used in this way.

“Sextortion is where the victim is asked to send the criminal sexual videos or photographs of themselves, and then receive threats that these will be shared with family or friends if they do not pay. This can also have a devastating impact on the emotional and mental health of victims, who feel backed into a corner with nowhere to turn.”

While Dyfed-Powys Police has seen a rise in romance fraud reports over the past year, officers fear the impact of lockdowns and isolations through 2020 and the beginning of 2021 is yet to be seen.

“What we know is that people have been increasingly lonely during the Covid-19 pandemic,” said DC Jordan.

“People have been shielding, isolating and living along without their usual level of contact with family and friends. It is natural to crave human contact, and the first place a lot of people will have turned over the past year is to the internet.

“There has been an increase in the number of reports we have received, but we know that some scammers will spend months, or even years, almost grooming their victims, so the true impact is unknown at present.

“We understand how hard it can be to come to terms with learning that the person you’ve built a relationship with – sometimes over a number of years – isn’t the person they said they were. We speak to victims who are dealing with it totally alone for fear of telling friends or family what has happened. We have support mechanisms in place to help you through the investigation stage and beyond.”

Tips to protect yourself:

1. Be cautious when sharing personal details with potential dates: revealing your full name, date of birth and home address could lead to your identity being stolen.
2. Pick a reputable dating website and use the site’s messaging service. Fraudsters will try to convince you to quickly switch to social media or texting so there’s no evidence of them asking you for money.
3. Never send or receive money or give away your bank details to someone you’ve only met online, no matter how much you trust them or believe their story.

Tips to protect a loved one:

1. Ask questions about your loved one’s new relationship: does it sound like both people are sharing the same kind of information at a similar pace?
2. Ask if you can see their profile: does it look genuine? Do they have multiple photographs that are clearly of the same person? Do the photos look too posed, or is the person clearly a model?
3. Don’t be afraid to share your suspicions with police. You are looking out for your friend or family member, and want to keep them safe. We can help.

Spot the signs:

• You’ve struck up a relationship with someone online; they’re asking a lot of personal questions about you, but they’re not interested in telling you much about themselves.
• Fraudsters often claim that they have high ranking roles or busy, important jobs that keep them away from home for long periods of time. This is to avoid suspicion as to why they can’t meet in person.
• They invent a reason to ask for your help, using the emotional attachment you’ve built with them. Your relationship with them may often depend on you sending money.
• Their pictures are too perfect – they may have been stolen from an actor or model. A reverse image search can find photos that have been taken from somewhere else. Ask a tech-savvy friend or relative to help if unsure.

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Reminder from Pembrokeshire Coast National Park to pre-book for attractions

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MEMBERS of the public are being reminded to pre-book their entry tickets before visiting two popular National Park Authority-run attractions.

To allow for social distancing on site, both Carew Castle and Tidal Mill and Castell Henllys Iron Age Village have been operating a pre-booking system since last summer.

Those wishing to visit should book their tickets online before arriving at the site. This applies to Annual Pass holders and others who qualify for free entry, such as wheelchair users and accompanying carers.

Carew Castle is open to pre-booked visitors between 10am and 4pm (Tidal Mill 11.30am – 5pm), while those wishing to visit Castell Henllys will be asked to book either a morning slot (10am-1pm) or an afternoon slot (2pm-5pm) before visiting the site.

Daisy Hughes, Visitor Services Manager at Carew Castle and Tidal Mill, said: “Over the past 12 months, we have made some changes to the site and how we operate to ensure that we keep you, our staff and our local community safe.

“All areas of the Castle and Tidal Mill are open, including the Walled Garden and play area. Nest Tearoom, which has plenty of outdoor undercover seating, will be serving light lunches and homemade cakes along with hot and cold drinks throughout the day, and the Castle and Mill Shops remain open – although face coverings must be worn and only card/contactless payments are currently being accepted.

“With the exception of Nest Tearoom, pre-booking is essential, though, and we’re asking all visitors to make sure they book their entry tickets in advance, in order to avoid any delays or disappointment when they arrive on site.”

Entry tickets for both Carew Castle and Castell Henllys can be purchased by visiting www.pembrokeshirecoast.wales/events

A dynamic programme of events suitable for all the family will be running at both sites throughout the summer months. Visit the above website for more information and to book tickets.

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Salvage Hunters: New series is filming in Pembrokeshire, and they need help

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SALVAGE HUNTERS, the well-loved and most watched Quest TV and Discovery Network show, is on the hunt for locations to film at in the Pembrokeshire and the wider South West Wales area to feature in the upcoming series.

We follow decorative antiques expert Drew Pritchard as he travels around various locations in the UK and abroad on his quest to find and buy unusual objects with an interesting history.

Drew really visits everywhere – beautiful estates, old family businesses, barns and attic’s stuffed full of unwanted things, museums, factories, collectors and iconic religious sites buying all sorts along the way – from gorgeous country house furniture and railwayana to 6ft 1980s disco balls and anything in-between.

Now in its sixteenth series and airing to over half a million people in the UK and millions more worldwide, this is a great opportunity for you to promote your business or home to a broad audience, sell a few items that perhaps you no longer need, make some money and celebrate the history and heritage of the UK.

If you think you fit the bill or know somebody that might then please do not hesitate to reach out and speak with a member of our team.

Call us on 0203 179 0092 or alternatively send us an email to – salvagehunters@curvemedia.com

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Haverfordwest and Cardigan high streets listed as among the ten worst in Britain

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TWO west Wales high streets have been listed in a UK wide report detailing Britain’s worst high streets.

In the highly respected report Cardigan High Street has been listed as the 4th worst in Britain, whilst Haverfordwest has come 8th.

The Harper Dennis Hobbs rankings, which come out every two years, in sadly listed six Welsh High Streets in the worst 10 category.

Some retail centres have performed well since 2019 but most Welsh towns have fallen down the list.

Overall the performance in Wales was poor with a major drop in the average position of Welsh high streets on the UK list.

More shops in Haverfordwest’s town centre have closed since the coronavirus hit (Pic: File image)

The average rank was 797 – the worst of any nation and region in the UK, showing the huge challenge Welsh Government has to revive town centres. Six of the bottom ten UK high streets were in Wales.

Normally Harper Dennis Hobbs releases the full ranking but when the firm published its 2021 report in February, it only made the top 50 best-performing locations publicly available. Now, a copy of the full list shared with i lays bare the shopping centres and high streets that have fared worst over the past year.

Top of the worst list is Girvan in South Ayrshire.

Girvan is home to around 6,500 people and has suffered the same difficulties as many cities and towns across the UK when it comes to its high street’s declining appeal – but it is the area’s “very weak retail offer” and the large number of empty shops that helped seal its place at the bottom of the league table.

Haverfordwest in 2014. can you spot any differences to now?

“Girvan along with Haverfordwest and Cardigan all scored poorly due to a very weak retail offer [and] the towns have a relatively high vacancy rate,” said Andy Metherell, head of retail consultancy at Harper Dennis Hobbs.

Andy Metherell, head of retail consultancy at HDH, explained: “Our analysis is unique as we use variables that both consumers and retailers consider when assessing shopping locations to rank the top 1,000 retail centres in Great Britain. This Vitality Ranking looks very different from previous years as the ‘retail health’ of high streets across the country has seen contrasting fortunes since the start of the pandemic.

“The most vital retail centres currently provide services that are essential to people’s lives, such as grocers and pharmacies. These essential retailers have been able to trade throughout the strictest lockdowns, and consumers have not been willing or able to travel far to visit these stores. Shopping patterns have therefore changed significantly since the start of the pandemic, and consumers’ local high streets are benefitting at the expense of major destinations.”

Turning empty retail spaces in the town into homes or offices could help rejuvenate the area and bring “demand to the doors” of shops that survive, Mr Metherell said.

Cardigan High Street before Covid-19 (Pic Stay In Wales)

Top 10 best high streets 2021

  1. Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire
  2. Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire
  3. Tenterden, Kent
  4. Wimbledon Village, south-west London
  5. Marlborough, Wiltshire
  6. Sevenoaks, Kent
  7. Kingston upon Thames, Greater London
  8. Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire
  9. Harpenden, Hertfordshire
  10. Ilkley, Bradford

Top 10 worst high streets 2021

  1. Girvan, South Ayrshire
  2. Bristol – Baldwin Street
  3. Chepstow, Monmouthshire
  4. Cardigan, Ceredigion
  5. Southsea, Portsmouth
  6. Tonypandy, Rhondda Cynon Taf
  7. Ammanford, Carmarthenshire
  8. Haverfordwest, Permbrokeshire
  9. Canning Town, east London
  10. Newtown, Powys

(Source: Harper Dennis Hobbs)

Cardigan High Street pictured in the early 2000’s before Currys left town (Pic Geograph)
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