Fraudsters were given almost £200,000 by victims conned in romance frauds in Gloucestershire over a six month period last year.
Police have issued a warning to people in the county to be wary of the scams as victims often think they are helping someone in crisis, but they are instead being groomed to part with their cash.
Romance fraud happens when someone meets a new person online, either through a dating app or social media.
However the fraudster uses a fake profile to target people and builds a false identity and relationship.
Once trust is gained the victims are either asked for money or for other personal information to steal their identity.
Victims have been contacted and targeted on sites including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, dating websites and adult sites such as Only Fans.
The average victim was aged between 33 and 45 and male, although victims as young as 13 have also been targeted.
From July to December last year the Constabulary had 78 reports with a total loss for victims of £199,881.31.
The scammers often claim that they live abroad, sometimes with sob stories that they are a struggling single parent, widowed, hungry, homeless or stranded in a foreign country.
Some claim they work in the military or are medical professionals, and make promises to meet up in person, but always have an excuse and cancel.
They often ask for Amazon gift cards, bitcoin or payment transfers to pay for items including rent, bills, medical fees, legal fees or travel fees. In some cases, victims have taken out credit cards or loans for the fraudster.
There can also be an emotional impact for victims who have been scammed, with some feeling embarrassed to have fallen victim which may also discourage them from coming forward to report what has happened.
One Gloucestershire victim lost tens of thousands of pounds after being scammed in a relationship fraud over around a year.
He said: “You feel stupid. You feel guilty. And there’s also that confusion of ‘is this real or is this false?’
“There is someone who sounded genuinely as if they were in need, as if they were desperate for help. As if there was nobody in the world who was helping them, and could I do this and help them.
“There’s a lot of emotional investment because it was a whole year of it.”
Romance fraudsters could be individuals working alone, or part of a wider organised crime gang.
Tips from Action Fraud on how to avoid a romance scam:
- Don’t rush into an online relationship – get to know the person, not the profile and ask plenty of questions.
- Analyse their profile and check the person is genuine by putting their name, profile pictures or any repeatedly used phrases and the term ‘dating scam’ into your search engine.
- Talk to your friends and family about your dating choices. Be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them.
- Evade scammers by never sending money to, or sharing your bank details with, someone you’ve met online, no matter what reason they give or how long you’ve been speaking to them.
- Stay on the dating site messenger service until you’re confident the person is who they say they are. If you do decide to meet in person, make sure the first meeting is in a public place and let someone else know where you’re going to be.
Fraud cases can be reported to Action Fraud online: https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/reporting-fraud-and-cyber-crime Anyone who finds themselves in immediate danger should call 999 as per any emergency.
For more information on spotting the signs of roman fraud, visit independent crime-fight charity Crimestoppers: https://crimestoppers-uk.org/campaigns-media/campaigns/tackling-romance-fraud
Victims of fraud looking for help can find more information on Victim Support’s website: https://www.victimsupport.org.uk/crime-info/types-crime/fraud/