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Abstract Details


2012 BPS Annual Conference

Conference Venue: Grand Connaught Rooms, London
British Psychological Society

From: 18 Apr 2012
To: 20 Apr 2012
Individual Paper(s)

The risk of romanticism: Psychological characteristics of online romance scam victims

Tom Buchanan
University of Westminster

Monica Whitty
University of Leicester

Objectives: In online dating romance scams, criminals initiate fake relationships through online dating or social networking sites, then financially defraud their victims. This study explored whether personality characteristics or romantic attitudes affected risk of victimisation or severity of outcomes.

Design: A quasi-experimental design compared people who had or had not fallen victim to romance scams in two distinct samples.

Methods: In Study 1, 853 respondents were recruited via an online dating company. They completed online measures of constructs including Romantic Beliefs, Sensation Seeking, Loneliness and the Big Five, and reported their experiences of romance scams. In Study 2, 397 respondents recruited via a romance scam support website completed the same measures.

Results: Across both studies, 470 people were scam victims and 239 of these had lost money. Of the constructs measured, only Romantic Beliefs distinguished victim and non-victim groups. Specifically, high scores on the romantic belief of Idealisation were associated with likelihood of being a victim. Victims experienced significant emotional distress as well as financial losses, with even respondents who had not lost money reporting significant distress. While women were typically more affected, some men also reported very high levels of distress. Among male financial victims, those with higher Neuroticism scores were most affected. Level of emotional distress was associated with high Neuroticism, and with high Loneliness and low Openness to Experience among victims not losing money.

Conclusions: Higher Romantic Beliefs (especially idealisation of romantic partners) may be linked to victimisation. A number of variables are associated with the effects of victimisation, and victims may experience significant emotional effects. The findings have implications for the feasibility of crime-prevention measures based on victim characteristics, and for treatment of victims by law enforcement and other stakeholders.



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