“ORGANISED criminal gangs” and sex offenders are using dating apps to seek out and target victims across Essex.
People in Essex looking for love have been deceived into handing over £5.3m to romance fraudsters with almost 380 cases reported in just two years.
Bosses at Essex Police say overseas crime gangs are using apps to find targets to scam.
A 50-year-old divorcee from Essex, who asked to remain anonymous, was scammed out of £25,000 in 2021.
He thought he had built intimate relationships with two women who he met on Plenty of Fish when they asked him to wire them the cash.
“They were beautiful women and I was suckered in. I think a lot of men would have done exactly the same,” he told Essex Police.
“I thought I was in love with them both. I wasn’t thinking straight.”
An Essex businesswoman was also scammed on dating apps, losing £13,000.
The woman, who has two grown-up children, said she was left feeling “stupid and ashamed” after two men, who both claimed to be widowed with young sons, asked her for cash.
Bosses at Essex Police say romance fraud crimes are “significantly underreported” as victims are often too embarrassed to admit their loss.
“The frauds are mainly the work of organised criminal gangs, many of whom are based overseas,” a spokesman for the force said.
“The fraudsters can groom victims for as long as a year, gaining their trust over many hours of conversation online or on the phone, sharing supposedly intimate secrets and often having a backstory likely to make the victim empathise with them.”
These tactics often make the requests for money appear legitimate and justifiable to victims.
“The fraudsters then use the information the victim shares about their life and family to manipulate or even threaten them, asking them for cash and gifts, or to launder money through their bank accounts,” the force spokesman added.
And a Freedom of Information request reveals that dating apps have also been used by rapists, paedophiles and stalkers to target victims across the county.
Between January and September last year (the latest available data) eight crimes reported to Essex Police mentioned dating apps by name.
Tinder was named in a report of rape while Grindr was named in crime reports concerning the meeting of a male child following sexual grooming and engaging in sexual communication with a child.
During that same period Plenty of Fish was named in a report of stalking.
The year before Tinder was named in five crime reports, Hinge in three, and Plenty of Fish in nine – with the most common offence on the latter harassment and sending letters with intent to cause distress.
In 2020 a 44-year-old man from Southend was founded guilty of making indecent images of children he had met on Plenty of Fish – despite the platform having an 18+ policy.
Craig Wilkinson, 44, of Royston Avenue, used the app to locate and target children, asking them to perform inappropriate actions on camera.
He was given a six-month suspended prison sentence.