Some 130 people were scammed out of almost £1 million in Leicestershire in “romance fraud” cases over a 12-month period, it’s emerged today (Monday).
Most of the people who fell victim in the county to the scammers between November 2020 and October 2021 are believed to be women aged between 40 and 60.
They were conned out of over £900,000, said Leicestershire Police today.
The huge scale of the crime has been revealed as a new national campaign is being launched today by City of London Police to warn people about romance fraud.
The force is urging people to help stop their loved ones and friends being targeted by criminals.
New figures show that people were fleeced of almost £92 million nationwide through dating scams between November 2020 and October 2021.
Daters who strike up online relationships between Christmas and Valentine’s Day tend to be most susceptible to romance fraud, with a spike of 901 reports recorded by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) in March 2021.
Paul Wenlock, of Leicestershire Police’s economic crime unit, said: “Criminals involved in these scams spend weeks gaining the victim’s trust, they will fabricate stories about their life and their identity.
“In the early stages there is no mention of money, so the victim may believe their love interest is genuine.
“Over a number of weeks and months that relationship continues online or via telephone conversations at which point the criminals will ask for money,” said Mr Wenlock.
“Typical excuses may include being ill, being in financial difficulty, lucrative investment opportunities and pretending to be military personnel or working overseas.”
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.
Paul Wenlock added: “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.”
Police say this is how you can 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.
Anyone who is speaking to people they do not know or have not known for a long period of time is urged to follow the 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.
If you fear you have been the victim of a similar offence police calling on you to contact Action Fraud or report online at www.leics.police.uk