This morning, it was reported that police are investigating an increasingly common con where men pose as sugar daddies online in order to access young women’s bank accounts and steal their money. At least 40 women are known to have been victim to the scam, losing thousands in the process.
According to The Times, men are signing up to sugar dating websites – which facilitate people looking for alternative bonds based on financial benefits and mentorship – without the means to provide for women looking for sugar arrangements, instead duping them into sharing personal information and bank details.
How are they duping these women, you may ask? Well, in many cases the men use the promise of opening up a credit card or new bank account for the victim – or sending them a gift – and instead open it in the victim’s name, running up debt using their identity.
NatWest have recorded 40 cases this year alone, but report that the real figure could be much higher if victims are too embarrassed to speak out about the con. The bank is unclear as to whether the same person has been repeating the con with multiple women or if many men are using the same method. They state that the scam is ‘highly sophisticated’, and have issued refunds to women fallen foul to the fraudulent activity.
One victim, anonymously dubbed Mary in an interview with The Times, was defrauded of over £4,000 by a sugar daddy she met on Seeking (formerly known as Seeking Arrangement) which is the most popular dating website for sugar arrangements with over 38million members worldwide.
She says she reverse-image searched the man, anonymously known as Duncan, after chatting with him online and had no reason to suspect him. He had offered her a £2,000 monthly allowance, frequent shopping trips, holidays and unlimited access to his card in exchange for three to four meetings a month.
While £2,000 a month may sound too good to be true to some, monthly allowances range from £1,500 - £7,000, according to sugar baby advice forums Sugar Dating 101 and Sugar Daddyy. Weekly meetings are also typical of sugar arrangements, suggesting this man had extensively researched the sugar baby world in order to perfect the con.
Over the course of a week, Duncan convinced Mary that he needed her personal details to set up a second card on his American Express account for her and that he would link her bank account to his via her NatWest customer ID. With this information, he set up an Amex card in her name and spent £2,000.
He then transferred £2,000 to Mary with the account overdraft so it would appear as though he had sent her money, but this was part of an even more sophisticated scam. Telling Mary her money would be better off in a cash ISA, he convinced her to transfer the £2,000 to a new account he claimed was in her name, when she was actually directly transferring her own money to him.
'He made it so complicated and then made me feel stupid when I didn’t understand it.'
‘He made it so complicated and then made me feel stupid when I didn’t understand it,’ Mary, a university student, told The Times. ‘I thought it was normal. I figured, “He’s a rich guy, he knows finance, he won’t take my money” … He was really nice and reassuring, he was friendly and warm. We spoke a lot on the phone and I thought he was genuine.’
Seeking encourages users not to disclose personal banking information or passwords, and while the site does perform verification checks on members, these only include criminal history background checks (in the US only), ID and photo verification plus social media verification (including LinkedIn). They do not verify net worth or income, but insist that their current ID checks 'greatly reduced fraudulent online behaviour.'
'Our support team continuously educates our Seeking community on safety measures when communicating online,' a spokesperson told Grazia. 'We have several notices throughout the platform warning members to never give bank information or other financial information. If fraudulent behaviour occurs, we work to support victims to recover assets when possible. We encourage our users to report any suspicion of bad behaviour so we can investigate immediately.'
Luckily for Mary, she got all her money back. Amex shut down the fraudulent account immediately without asking for her debt to be repaid. NatWest were initially unable to refund her money since she’d transferred it from her own account, however as more victims came forward they ruled the scam was ‘highly sophisticated’ and returned the £2,000 she lost.
For NatWest though, who fear others have been victim to the scam but are too embarrassed to speak out, there are many more that could have lost thousands. These are women that, in most cases, are university students already struggling with the financial burden of student loans and low-paying part time jobs. Seeking state that more than 500,000 British university students are signed up to the site.
Hopefully, with police and fraud officials now investigating the con, no more will fall foul to the shameful grab on young women seeking a way out of piling debt.