ONLINE daters are being warned to guard against ‘romance fraud’.
As part of a national police campaign, Hampshire and Dorset constabularies are sending out the warning as reports of online scams rose 26% in the last year.
Det. Insp. Sue Orr, of Hampshire’s Economic Crime Unit, said: “Romance fraud occurs when you think you’ve met the perfect partner online but they are using a fake profile to form a relationship with you.
“You can meet them via an online dating website or app, social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, or gaming sites.
“They gain your trust over a number of weeks or months and have you believe you are in a loving and caring relationship. However, the criminal’s end goal is only ever to get your money or personal information.”
Over the 12 months to August this year, Action Fraud received 222 reports from residents in the county, who between them were fleeced of £2m – an average loss per victim of just over £9,000.
There have also been worrying signs the problem worsened during lockdown, the force has said, with an almost two-fold rise in reported incidents in July compared with the previous month.
The most at-risk group was those between the ages of 40 and 59, accounting for 42% of cases.
DI Sue Orr continued: “It is always worth taking a moment to stop and think if the person could be someone that they are not.
“If in doubt, challenge that person – it’s okay to reject, refuse or ignore any requests for your financial or personal details. Only criminals will try to rush or pressure you into making a decision.”
Between the same period, 70 people from Dorset were duped, with losses totalling £384,400 – just under £5,500 per victim.
Acting Det. Sgt Will Burnett said: “This type of fraud is devastating for the victim, both financially and emotionally. Scammers work out who is lonely and very slowly start to creep into their lives, promising love and companionship – it is very cruel.”
He continued: “There are plenty of ways to protect yourself – if you are on a dating site, stay on the site messaging system. Too often the criminal will want to switch to another platform that is less regulated soon after first establishing contact.
“If someone asks for financial help, you should report them.”
Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill said: “Sadly, the isolation caused by the ongoing pandemic has created the perfect conditions for these fraudsters, with many more people using the internet to meet and talk.
“If you are a victim of this type of fraud, remember it isn’t anything to be ashamed of – do report it so you can go on to get the help you need.”
The top five sites targeted by scammers were Facebook, Plenty of Fish, Instagram, Tinder and Match.com.
As part of the campaign, the Match Group, which owns OK Cupid, Plenty of Fish, Tinder and Match.com, is running romance fraud protection adverts throughout October on these platforms, to inform users how to spot the signs of a romance fraud and how to protect themselves online.
Those who believe they have been a victim of romance fraud should call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or go to actionfraud.police.uk