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The research catalogue is an archive of ESRC-funded grants and outputs. Links, files and other content will no longer be maintained or updated after April 2014.

An examination of the online romance scam

Grant reference: RES-000-22-4022

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Conference paper/presentation details

Loved and lost in cyberspace : an examination of the strategies scammers employ to defraud victims of the online dating romance scam
The following abstract was accepted for the British Psychological Society Conference, which is a peer review conference held in the UK annually. Objectives: The online dating romance scam emerged in the UK in about 2008. In this crime, criminals pretend to initiate a relationship through online dating sites and social networking sites and then defraud their victims of money. The data reported here is part of a much larger study. One of the aims of the study was to examine the persuasive techniques employed to con individuals. Design: Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was used in this study. This method was chosen because of its emphasis on ‘lived experience’ and how participants make sense of their experiences. Methods: The Serious Organised Crime Agency assisted in the recruiting of participants and organised interviews to be conducted in a place chosen by the victim (e.g., their home, hotel bar, café). Interviews lasted from 1.5 to 3 hours. For this study fifteen victims of the scam (11 women; 4 men) were interviewed. Results: Persuasive techniques included ones previous identified by marketing psychologists (e.g., Cialdini’s (2001) six basic tendencies of generating a positive response; the foot in the door technique and the elaboration likelihood model). Perhaps more interesting was the way computer mediated communication was used to successfully groom victims. Drawing from Walther’s (1996) work, we demonstrate that criminals develop ‘hyper-personal’ relationships with their victims prior to scamming them Conclusions: The paper concludes by arguing that the online dating romance scam needs to be understood as a serious crime, which leaves victims traumatised. We provide suggestions on how online dating sites, police and counsellors might better deal with the crime and victims of this crime.

Primary contributor

Author Monica Whitty

Additional details

18 April 2012
British Psychological Society annual conference
18 April 2012