Lancashire Police have issued a warning this week about ‘romance fraudsters’ in the run up to Valentine's Day, as last year saw the annual number of incidents increase by nearly 30%.
Posting on both their Facebook and Twitter accounts, the force urged people to be wary of these fraudsters, who gain their victims' trust before asking for money for a variety of emotive reasons.
According to the police, daters striking up online romances between Christmas and Valentine’s Day tend to be more susceptive to romance fraud, and they ask people to think carefully before parting with any money.
A spokesperson for Lancashire Police told the Post: “Romance fraud or dating fraud as it’s also known, is an incredibly sophisticated crime, which has devastating impacts on victims, both financially and emotionally. It is a crime that we are committed to tackling with help from key partners and we want to empower people to understand what to look out for to protect themselves and their money online.
“Victims often blame themselves but these criminals are experts at impersonating people. If anyone has met someone online, that they suspect isn’t genuine, they should speak to their family and friends and most importantly report it immediately. For advice on how to spot the signs and how to avoid becoming a victim of fraud, please visit Action Fraud’s website at actionfraud.police.uk.”
Across the country, between November 2020 and October 2021, there was 8,863 cases of romance fraud reported, with losses totalling £91.9 million- nearly 2000 more cases than there were in the 12 months before.
Last year, Lancashire Police ran a campaign called #LoveNotLies highlighting the seriousness of romance fraud, and featuring case studies of those who had been affected.
One victim in her 60s, who has been named Sandra, had began online dating in search for someone to spend her retirement with after a breakup from her partner, but within weeks she had been scammed out of thousands of pounds by a romance fraudster.
Sandra, who was duped by a "romantic" charmer called Jeremy, said: “I was taken in because I had let my guard down, I was quite vulnerable during that time and the man I met took complete advantage of that.
“I think of myself as an intelligent woman and I am naturally suspicious so I never for a moment thought that I would be scammed in the way that I was, but I was."
A few days before the couple were planning on meeting for the first time, Jeremy rang frantically and told an elaborate lie, which involved having to go to Ghana in place of his friend who had been building a hospital there.
It was when he had apparently arrived in Ghana that the requests for money began, starting with just £20 to top up his pay as you go mobile phone, but the requests soon became hundreds, and even thousands, followed with stories about how his friend had let him down over missed payments for the 'hospital build.'
The final requests were supposedly to cover medical bills and a flight back to the UK after he had been in a car accident, but it was when Jeremy failed to call following his supposed landing, that Sandra realised it had all been a scam and she "felt like the bottom of [her] world had fallen out."
Sandra added: “I would urge anyone who goes online to meet someone like I did to please be mindful if you are asked to quickly leave the dating platform and go onto your own phone numbers. If you meet someone genuine they will happily stay on the dating app as they will have nothing to hide.
“Another thing which should have been a warning sign but I didn’t pick up on it is that we never had a video call and so when I look back I never had any proof that he was actually who he said he was.”
Offering their own advice, Lancashire Police urged people on Facebook “Don’t let your heart rule your head” as they give tips on how to protect those who are online dating. These were:
-Make sure the security settings on social media accounts are turned on, to stop strangers accessing personal info.
-Stay in regular contact with those who are online dating to help spot any changes in behaviour or things that don’t seem right.
-Make friends and family aware of the signs of romance fraud so that they know about the tactics criminals use to carry out these scams and reiterate that you should never transfer money to someone that you have never met in person.
-Encourage people to report to Action Fraud and the police if they have become a victim of romance fraud and not to be embarrassed about doing so.
If you are suspicious about someone or you think someone has become a victim, you can report it to Action Fraud here.
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