Fraudsters stole nearly £40 million from Brits looking for love last year.
New figures have confirmed a record number of people fell victim to online dating scams in 2016.
Overseas criminals posing as suitors targeted almost 4,000 wealthy Brits in so-called ‘romance frauds’.
After striking up a rapport and gaining the trust of the unsuspecting target, the scammer then quickly persuades them to part with money, often claiming it is to help pay for an emergency.
The number of people falling victim to the scam has reached a record high in Britain, but not all of those targeted were women.
At least 39 per cent of those who are duped are men, according to Action Fraud, the UK’s cyber-crime reporting centre.
The majority of perpetrators are thought to be male organised criminals, who create fictitious online characters to target people of both sexes.
But police believe there are also a number of female romance scammers operating, who specifically target lonely men aged over 50.
Investigators fear the number is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ as many are far too ’embarrassed’ to even tell their own families.
They said the average victim loses £10,000 as they are lured into a web of intrigue by mysterious strangers they meet on popular dating sites.
They traced many scams to criminal networks based in West Africa and Eastern Europe but struggle to bring fraudsters to justice.
According to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, there were 3,889 victims of so-called romance fraud last year, who handed over a record £39million.
One university professor lost £140,000 in a series of scams orchestrated by an individual she only knew as ‘John Porter’, who claimed to be based in London.
Judith Lathlean, 68, of Hampshire, said she was attracted to a supposed Christian interior designer. But she started to hand over money when he claimed to be trapped in South Africa without a passport and needing help to save a valuable contract.
A second woman was left more than £300,000 out of pocket after falling for the profile of a handsome Italian supposedly based in Turkey.
The North Yorkshire businesswoman, 47, fell for elaborate lies, sending cash to help keep his business afloat. She said she faces bankruptcy and feels “brutalised emotionally”.
Police investigate but it is difficult to trace culprits.
‘Cyber-psychologist’ Professor Monica Whitty insisted it is “not the case that stupid people fall for romance scams – they can be very clever”.
Steve Proffitt, of Action Fraud, warned: “Never send money to people you meet online.”