“Friendship fraud” on the increase in Belgium in 2019
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    “Friendship fraud” on the increase in Belgium in 2019

    The image used in the information campaign launched in 2018

    The Belgian authorities last year took in reports of 718 cases of so-called friendship fraud, from people who were defrauded by “friends” they got to know online.

    The number, from the inspection service of the economy ministry, is about 10% higher than the 637 cases reported in 2018. And while the largest source of problems was dating sites with 32% of reports, social media was close behind with 28% of cases.

    The fraudsters operate like this: you receive a friend request from someone not known to you, with a message that sounds sympathetic and a photo you find attractive.

    For most people, such requests from total strangers are considered a nuisance and are deleted without a second thought.

    For the more vulnerable, however, the chance to find a partner or even just a friend leads them to respond, and slowly they become drawn into the fraudsters’ net.

    The more than 700 cases reported to the economic inspectors are cases where there was financial loss. In other words, these were people who were eventually convinced to pay out money for a promise from the new “friend” – to come and visit, for example, if you will pay for the plane ticket by transferring money to a strange bank account.

    And there is serious money at stake: in 2018 the victims of the fraud paid out €5 million in total, a figure that rose to €5.7 million in 2019.

    In 2018 a campaign was launched, with radio ads and a website in French and Dutch, with advice for anyone already caught up in a fraud situation or in danger of becoming so.

    Some tips: Always verify the authenticity of a person’s profile; don’t trust just anyone, especially total strangers online; be wary of sad tales and sob-stories; and never under any circumstances hand over money to a stranger, however charming.

    The site also provides a way to report a fraud (also in English) if the matter has gone that far.

    Alan Hope
    The Brussels Times