National campaign ‘Operation Otello’ launched to tackle romance fraud


Police forces across the country are working together with partners, including Match Group, to tackle romance fraud, with a combination of awareness raising and enforcement activity, co-ordinated by the City of London Police.

The multi-agency campaign, running throughout October, aims to raise awareness of romance fraud and provide clear and unambiguous protection advice to the public, following a 26 percent rise in reports to Action Fraud in the last year.

As City of London Police this morning launches a national campaign ‘Operation Otello’ to tackle romance fraud, Dr Elisabeth Carter, Criminologist and Forensic Linguist at the University of Roehampton and contributor to the campaign, discusses the techniques scammers use to deceive their victims based on her research on the matter which is the first of its kind:

“For the first time, we have conducted a research into the use of linguistic techniques in communications between scammers and victims to reveal the tactics scammers use to extort money from their victims through romance fraud. What we found has reimagined what scam communication looks like: romance fraud is a long way from badly-written demands for money and has entered the realm of subtle psychological abuse. Our analysis formed the basis of the City of London Police campaign, which will run nationwide throughout October.

“Our study revealed that, far from being stupid or greedy, scam victims are actually subjected to psychological trickery and grooming much like those seen in coercive control, gaslighting and domestic violence and abuse. As more people go online to meet others and find love while Covid-19 social restrictions persist, it is vital the public knows of the warning signs of becoming the victim of a romance fraud.

“Scammers will make their victims feel compelled to protect them, through a sense of duty, compassion or guilt. They can do this by building up trust through having a long-term relationship with their victim, showing their own vulnerabilities, using plausible situations such as difficult life circumstances or health difficulties. Through being groomed by the scammer’s use of language, the victim will often offer money to the scammer without being asked, and when the scammer does ask for money it will be heavily disguised as a call for assistance, a reasonable request for a temporary loan, or an ordinary part of a relationship, so it does not cause alarm. This goes against the usual understandings and warnings about scams that concentrate on explicit demands for money from strangers.

“Undoubtedly this makes it more difficult for victims to spot fraud, but even amidst the subtle linguistic trickery, it is still possible to be alert to warning signs. If the person you’re dating wants to keep your relationship private or warns you against talking to others about it, this is a sign that the relationship is not one you should be in. Do not send money, instead get advice from Action Fraud if you want to send money to someone you haven’t yet met, or if you are the only person who can help a person you love in a situation resolved by money.

“By knowing and understanding how romance scammers operate, we can help change the landscape of scam prevention and protection. Campaigns like the City of London Police are essential to alert the public to the subtle tactics that can be used in romance scams and stop perpetrators in their tracks.”

Details of the City of London Police campaign are available on