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It looks like love but it's actually a con - Suffolk dating site users warned of heartless 'romance fraud'

PUBLISHED: 16:30 13 February 2019 | UPDATED: 10:00 14 February 2019

'Romance fraud' is on the rise in the UK, it has been warned. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

'Romance fraud' is on the rise in the UK, it has been warned. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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And now those looking for love this Valentine's Day have been warned there are tricksters out there more interested in your wallet than your heart.

More people are falling victim to 'romance fraud', it has been warned. Picture: GETTY IMAGESMore people are falling victim to 'romance fraud', it has been warned. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Suffolk police and crime commissioner (PCC) Tim Passmore has joined crime-fighting charity Action Fraud to warn of an increase in so-called “romance fraud”, where criminals use fake profiles to form a relationship with victims.

Gaining the person’s trust, they then ask for money or enough personal information so they can steal their identity.

Nationally, this type of fraud has risen 27% in the past year, costing victims £50million - or £11,145 on average.

Suffolk has not been immune to the rise either, with one of the largest frauds in the county last year being a dating scam which cost the victim £278,000.

Tim Passmore, Conservative Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNTim Passmore, Conservative Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Councillor Richard Rout, who oversees Suffolk Trading Standards in his role as the county council’s cabinet member for environment and public protection, has also highlighted a case where a retired vicar sent more than £8,000 to a woman in Uganda.

However Action Fraud believes the problem is even more widespread than that, as they believe many victims do not report what has happened out of embarrassment.

It has teamed up with organisations such as Victim Support, Age UK and the Online Dating Association to issue tips how people can avoid being scammed.

They include never giving out your bank account details, analysing someone’s profile to check they are genuine and talking to friends about dating choices.

Richard Rout Picture: SCCRichard Rout Picture: SCC

Mr Passmore said: “So-called romance fraud is on the increase and it is a particularly cruel crime, as victims are targeted both financially and emotionally.

“It affects people of all ages, in all walks of life.

“These heartless fraudsters prey on those looking for love and the victims are exploited out of significant amounts of money, in some cases hundreds of thousands of pounds.

“It may not seem like a very romantic start to a relationship but it makes sense to follow the ‘Date Safe’ advice on the Action Fraud website before getting too involved and remember no one you meet online should ever ask you for money.

“If you have been victim of a romance fraud it is important to report it to Action Fraud – you are not alone and your action may help prevent others falling victim too.”

Mr Rout added: “Scammers will often target lonely or vulnerable people, who are more likely to respond to seemingly friendly correspondents.

“Victims will be asked to send money, so there is the obvious financial loss, however it is the mental and physical impact that can often be overlooked.

“Understandably, victims are more reluctant to come forward, usually through embarrassment, but I would urge anyone to report these crimes and encourage others to do so.”

Chief executive officer of the Online Dating Association, George Kidd, said: “Dating services are part of our social fabric, accounting for about a third of all new relationships.

“They are enjoyed by millions and we want everyone to have a great and safe experience.

“We ask users to stay alert online just as they would in any other walk of life - use the in-built messaging services and be wary of people who want to get you away from this.

“Be wary of those who shower you with loving messages instantly, but may not want to meet.

“And, no-one you meet online should ever ask you for money.”

Chief officer at independent charity Victim Support, Diana Fawcett, said: “Romance fraud affects victims both emotionally and financially and for many the impact can be long-term.

“These scams can be extremely sophisticated and victims should not feel ashamed or embarrassed and shouldn’t blame themselves in any way.

“It’s important that victims know there is help available to them and we would encourage them to seek support.”

Managing director, economic crime at UK Finance, Katy Worobec, said: “We are urging customers to be vigilant against romance scams and not let a fraudster fool you this Valentine’s.

“Banks are always looking out for any suspicious transactions, but we need customers to be on the guard against suspicious approaches too.

“Always be wary of any requests for money from someone you’ve never met in person. If you think you may have fallen victim to a romance scam, contact your bank straight away and report it to Action Fraud.”

Those who believe they have been targeted by romance fraudsters can call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.

Action Fraud’s advice on how to avoid dating fraud

■ Don’t rush into an online relationship – get to know the person, not the profile and ask plenty of questions.

■ Analyse their profile and check the person is genuine by putting their name, profile pictures or any repeatedly used phrases and the term ‘dating scam’ into your search engine.

■ Talk to your friends and family about your dating choices. Be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them.

■ Evade scammers by never sending money to, or sharing your bank details with, someone you’ve met online, no matter what reason they give or how long you’ve been speaking to them.

■ Stay on the dating site messenger service until you’re confident the person is who they say they are. If you do decide to meet in person, make sure the first meeting is in a public place and let someone else know where you’re going to be.

‘Join the Fight’ conference

Suffolk is set to host a conference exploring the serious financial, emotional and health consequences of online romance scams.

The free event, funded using confiscated proceeds of crime, will also examine the reasons behind vulnerable people falling victim to lonely hearts deceptions, including social isolation and loneliness.

Fittingly scheduled for Valentine’s Day, the ‘Join the Fight’ conference has been organised by Suffolk Trading Standards in partnership with colleagues in Norfolk, and will take place at Trinity Park, Ipswich, from 9am to 4.15pm.

Clare Davies, senior Trading Standards officer, said: “Scams, and romance scams in particular, are under-reported crimes which often affect the most vulnerable people within our communities.

“By raising awareness, we can join together to fight against scams, and protect our local economy and communities.”

Those attending include national Trading Standards scams team investigator, Richard Clarke; University of Roehampton social sciences lecturer, Dr Elisabeth Carter; cyber security and privacy consultant, Paul Maskall; Suffolk County Council head of knowledge and intelligence, Anna Crispe; Bournemouth University professor, Keith Brown; joint head of Suffolk Trading Standards, Graham Crisp, and his Norfolk counterpart, Sophie Leney.

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