More lonely hearts looking for love in Northamptonshire were victims of romance fraud during 2021.
Police recorded 117 reports county-wide — up by around 20 percent on 2020 — and revealed the period between Christmas and Valentine’s Day tends to be when people are most at risk of falling prey to fakes.
County residents lost more than £700,000 through dating scams last year with figures released by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau showing 56 percent of victims were female and more than half aged 50-plus.
PC Neil MacKenzie, of the Northamptonshire Economic Crime Unit, said: “The financial loss alone is difficult to overcome with some victims losing their life-savings — however the emotional impact can be devastating.
“Loneliness is a key element which fuels the need for an online relationship. This allows fraudsters the opportunity to manipulate their victims who then end up loving the person who scams them.
“Typically, a fraudster will spend weeks or even months grooming their victim with empathy and affection and fabricated stories of their lives, creating a believable background and building trust before asking for money.
“Once they have received money, the fraudsters will keep coming back for more.
“We are asking families to speak to their relatives to ensure they are aware of the warning signs to look out for to help them avoid falling victim to fraud, especially if their loved one is not particularly tech savvy.”
Criminals use a range of emotive stories such as funding travel to visit the victim, money to pay for emergency medical expenses, lucrative investment opportunities and pretending to be military personnel or working overseas.
PC MacKenzie added: “Romance fraud is one of the most difficult crimes for us to investigate as people are often in denial that they have been a victim, and rarely report it themselves.”
■ Action Fraud has tips on how to help protect people you know are online dating:
• Help friends and family keep adequate privacy settings on social media accounts, ensuring strangers can’t get personal information
• Stay in regular contact with friends and family who are online dating to help spot anything that doesn’t seem right
• Make them aware of signs of romance fraud so they are conscious of criminals tactics. Tell them NEVER to send money to someone that you never met in person
• Encourage people not to be embarrassed about contacting Action Fraud and the police if they are victims of romance fraud
■ Tell-tale signs an online date may be a fraudster:
• They want to communicate through instant messaging and texts, rather than through the dating website. Other platforms are encrypted and difficult to trace
• They ask lots of questions, but don’t reveal much about themselves
• Their profile picture is too perfect or they cannot send a live image with thumbs up, or waving
• They cannot talk to the person, video calls are silent, because it’s a loop stolen from a genuine site
• They talk about financial difficulties to sow a seed before asking for money
■ If you think you have been a victim of fraud you should report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre by calling 0300 123 20 40 or online.