"Romance scams online generate billions"

The story of Ruben Vanhees, the 33-year-old Fleming abducted and robbed on a Tinder date in Columbia has focused attention on romance scams online.  VRT news consulted communication scientist Elisabeth Timmermans, who speaks of a billion euro scam business.

Dr Elisabeth Timmermans of the Erasmus University in Rotterdam thinks Ruben's story is a pretty hairy tale. Fortunately, the communication scientist has no knowledge of violence linked to Tinder in Belgium, but an incident did occur in the Netherlands last year.

"Two guys were enticed into a trap on Grinder.  That's Tinder for gays.  They were beaten up!"

Elisabeth Timmermans confirms that dangers are linked to Tinder and other dating apps: "We often see dating scams.  In Nigeria it's a fully-fledged business organised by companies.  They produce false profiles on dating apps, look for a victim and build a relationship.  They send love letters, make calls and even deliver presents.  This is how they create a bond of trust.  A couple of months on, you learn there is a problem and they need cash.  Some victims are already bitten by amorous thoughts and readily transfer the cash!"

This business generates billions of euros.  Elisabeth Timmermans: "The number of cases is growing exponentially.  Victims don't always come forward.  They feel guilty and reproach themselves."

Ruben Vanhees (pictured below) is devastated by his experience: "I've always been an adventurous guy.  I've travelled a lot and that has given me great confidence in my fellow human beings.  For the minute I can't return to Colombia.  That's the worst thing.  They’ve taken away my second home country.