Exploring the massive cost of Sussex internet romance fraud
As Brighton-based crime writer Peter James says, internet dating has become very much part of our social norms these days.
“And there are some very, very successful and happy outcomes.”
But there are also some deeply tragic outcomes – as Peter highlights in his latest, and 15th, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace novel, a novel which Peter hopes might come as an eye-opener to many.
Dead at First Sight (published on May 16) exposes the dark side of the internet – the cruelty of internet romance fraud, a crime which it is estimated has cost its victims something like £30 million in Sussex alone over the past five years.
“When I wrote Dead Tomorrow, I had a lot of help from King’s Hospital liver transplant unit, and about a year later, I learnt that people signing up for liver transplants had significantly increased as a result of the book. I hope that Dead at First Sight will have even more impact,” says Peter who will be speaking about it at Horsham’s Capitol on Wednesday, May 22.
A man waits at a London airport for Ingrid Ostermann, the love of his life, to arrive. Across the Atlantic, a retired NYPD cop waits in a bar in Florida’s Key West for his first date with the lady who is, without question, his soulmate. The two men are about to discover they’ve been scammed out of almost every penny they have in the world – and that neither woman exists.
“Over the years, I have quite often written certain things because I have been asked to by the police in Sussex or in London, highlighting certain things.”
Dead at First Sight was a direct request: “They said to me that internet romance fraud has become an absolute menace. Last year alone there was £2.5 million reported in Sussex, but the police reckon only about ten to 15 per cent of the crimes are reported.”
The point is that out of sheer embarrassment or even shame, people don’t come forward after being scammed – and consequently many more people are unaware of the dangers out there.
“The police said to me ‘If you fancy writing about this kind of fraud, you would be doing a massive service in helping to raise awareness of it not just in Sussex and in the UK but around the world.’ They said they would give me support and show me – without seeing the names – some of the files.
“I sat down and there is a wonderful officer called Bernadette Lawrie who has won an award for her work in this field. And I was staggered when she showed me the amounts involved. She was saying that one of the biggest problems – and I have since talked to many, many people and I have talked to some of the victims as well – is convincing the victims that they have been defrauded.”
They are asked to send money to help with all sorts, from costly divorces to hospital fees. All of it is pocketed by the scammer.
“The victim is faced with a double whammie. The fraudster plays them for six months to a year, and by the end of that time the victim is seriously in love. They are then faced with the fact that this person does not actually exist and that they have lost an entire life’s savings. They are in their late 60s or 70s or even 80s and 90s, and their future has just crumbled away.
“The cruelty is beyond belief. The fraudsters are mostly from Ghana and Nigeria and quite a few from eastern Europe.”
They have schools where they learn to scam. They are even sent to this country to learn the culture. And there is no remorse...
PUB DATE 16/05/2019
EBOOK 16/05/2019, 9781509816422, £16.99