Heartless fraudsters conned a whopping £1.1MILLION from Northamptonshire victims looking for love during 2020.
Up to 100 people were conned out of an average £11,500 each by using fake online profiles to convince targets they were 'the one'.
But PC Neil Mackenzie warned: “The financial loss of romance fraud is difficult to overcome however it’s the emotional impact on victims that can be devastating as they end up loving the person who has scammed them.
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"We want to do all we can to raise awareness of this heartless crime to prevent people from falling for it.”
Romance fraudsters convince victims they have met the perfect partner online by using bogus profiles to build-up trust over a period of weeks or months.
Nearly six in ten victims are aged between 40 and 60 and all manner of websites and apps are employed including Facebook, Instagram, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, Plenty of Fish, Tinder and Match.
Last year, this newspaper featured one victim who bravely spoke out to warn others after being conned out of her South Northamptonshire home and her life savings by a trickster she thought loved her.
The scammer spent 18 months winning her trust before vanishing with more than £100,000, leaving his victim horribly in debt.
One former trickster who spoke to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre, revealed how creating fake accounts on several social media platforms made them look genuine when prospective partners searched to check them out.
The fraudster said: “People like to live in fairy tales to say it won’t happen to me.
"I make sure all my conversations are bespoke. I will show insecurity myself about trusting people and this helps allude to them I’m genuine.”
Already in 2021, figures show a 20 per cent increase year on year — although that is just the tip of the iceberg as many victims are too embarrassed to report the crime.
PC Mackenzie added: Fraudsters often purport to be a professional person, a doctor, or in the military overseas.
“Once the fraudsters are confident that you have enough sympathy and desire for them, they will tell you about a problem they are experiencing and ask you to help out by sending money.
"For example, they’ve arranged to visit you but need money to pay travel or visa costs, or they’ve paid for a plane ticket which is then stolen.
“It could also be that a family member or someone else they are responsible for is ill and they need money for medical treatment.
“Once you send them money, the fraudsters will keep coming back with more reasons to send them money, or ask you to use your bank account to transfer money for them.”
Police have a list of tell-tale signs that your online date may be a fraudster:
■ Wanting to communicate through instant messaging and texts — which are harder to trace — rather than the dating website or chat room where you met
■ Asking lots of questions about you but not revealing much about themselves, even dodging basic questions about where they live and work
■ Their profile picture is too perfect and they cannot send a live image with thumbs up, or waving
■ They cannot TALK to you video calls are silent because it’s a loop stolen from a genuine site
■ Talking about their financial difficulties to sow a seed before asking for money
Don’t let your heart rule your head and trust your instincts — if you think something feels wrong, it probably is!
■ Anyone believing they have been a victim of fraud should report it to Action Fraud by calling 0300 1232040 or visting its website.