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Romance fraud awareness campaign launched after millions lost in scams last year

Family members of online daters are being urged to help protect their relatives from becoming a victim of romance fraud, as new figures show almost £92million has been lost nationally through dating scams over the past year.

Across Avon and Somerset, losses of £2.4million were reported in the 12-month period up to and including October 2021.

As a result we are supporting a national campaign, led by Action Fraud and City of London Police, to raise awareness of how dating profiles and apps can lead to people being a victim of a scam.

Temporary Detective Chief Superintendent Matt Bradford, from the City of London Police, said: “Typically, romance fraudsters will spend weeks gaining their victims’ trust, feeding them fabricated stories about who they are and their lives – and initially make no suggestion of any desire to ask for any money, so the victim may believe their new love interest is genuine.

“But weeks, or sometimes months later, these criminals will ask for money for a variety of emotive reasons and as the emotional relationship has already been formed, victims often transfer money without a second thought.

“We’re calling on family members who think their relatives may be dating online to help make them aware of the warning signs that they could be falling victim to fraud, particularly if the person dating online is not particularly tech savvy.”

Spotting signs of romance fraud

Criminals often use a range of stories to get victims to transfer them money without it raising suspicion. The stories are often believable, to a certain extent, and something that the victim would find hard to say no to, especially because of their emotional attachment.

Examples of stories include 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.

Between November 2020 and October 2021, 8,863 cases of romance fraud were reported to National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, up from 6,968 reports in the 2020 calendar year.

Of those cases, 238 were reported by people living in Avon and Somerset. More than half of the victims were aged 40-69.

However, it is widely accepted the true number of cases is likely to be much higher with people often reluctant to report what has happened.

Fraud Protect Officer Amy Horrobin said: “We often hear people are reluctant to report romance fraud cases because they feel embarrassed. However, there is absolutely no reason to. Your case will be taken seriously, you will be listened to and we can help you access any support you may need. You are not alone.

“Romance fraud can not only impact people financially, it can cause significant emotional distress too to find out someone you believed in and may have loved, isn’t who they have pretended to be. But one of the most common things we hear from victims is that once they have reported it and confided in someone, they feel a weight has been lifted.”

PCC Mark Shelford said: “Romance fraud is an awful, heart-breaking crime; victims invest time into someone and think they have a genuine connection with someone when, in fact is has been a cruel lie to commit fraud.

“I know many victims feel ashamed when they realise they have been scammed by romance fraudsters but please know support is available from the police and Action Fraud. If you think a family member of friend is a victim of this terrible crime, please make them aware of the signs and help them access help.”

How to help protect people you know are online dating

  • Help your friends and family to ensure they have adequate privacy settings on their social media accounts to ensure strangers don’t have access to their personal information.
  • Stay in regular contact with your friends and family 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 are conscious of 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.

Take Five To Stop Fraud advice

  • Stop: Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.
  • Challenge: Could it be fake? It’s okay to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.
  • Protect: If you think you’ve been a victim of fraud, contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud online at actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040.