Wiltshire Police have renewed a warning for people to beware romance fraud.
Offences often involve a victim being targeted by somebody they met online as a potential romantic partner, who tricks them into sending money for various fictional emergencies.
The Wiltshire force is among many across the country working with partners including dating organisation Match Group to tackle romance fraud, with a combination of awareness-raising and enforcement activity, co-ordinated by the City of London Police.
The multi-agency campaign, running throughout this month, aims to raise awareness and provide clear advice, following a 26 percent rise in reports to Action Fraud in the last year.
Temporary Detective Chief Superintendent Alex Rothwell of the City of London Police, said: “Romance fraud is a devastating crime that impacts victims both financially and emotionally.
"It is a crime that we in policing across the UK, are committed to tackling with help from key partners. Through this campaign we want to empower people to understand what to look out for and feel confident that if they have fallen victim to a fraud, to report it to us.
“Criminals are experts at impersonating people. They spend hours researching you for their scams, especially when committing romance fraud. We’re reminding everyone to stop and think: fall for the person, not the profile, it could protect you and your money.”
Between August 2019 and August of this year, Action Fraud received over 400 reports a month from victims of romance fraud in the UK. Losses reported by victims during this time totalled £66,335,239, equating to an average loss per victim of just over £10,000.
During June, July and August 2020, Action Fraud received more than 600 reports per month of romance fraud, indicating people may have met, and begun talking to, romance fraudsters during the national lockdown caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
Diana Fawcett, Chief Executive of the independent charity Victim Support, said: “Victims of romance fraud often blame themselves, but it is important to understand that this is an incredibly sophisticated crime, and that almost anyone can be targeted.
"Victims may feel they have not only lost money, but also a loving partner or relationship they thought they had.
“Lockdown restrictions meant people could not meet in person for a number of months, which led to many seeking to form new connections online. Whilst using the internet can be a great way to meet people and form relationships, there’s also a great risk of being lured into a romance scam as fraudsters know how to take advantage of people’s desire for human contact.
"Unfortunately, we’ve seen that circumstances caused by coronavirus were in fact used by fraudsters as a ‘hook’ to extort money. For example, some have invented lies about needing medical treatment, or urgent travel expenses to leave a country, or funds to keep afloat after a bogus job loss caused by the pandemic.
“It’s important to be aware that not everyone is who they say they are.”
The top five platforms where victims reported first interacting with the criminal committing romance fraud were Facebook, Plenty of Fish, Instagram, Tinder and Match.com.
As part of the campaign the Match Group, who own OK Cupid, Plenty of Fish, Tinder and Match.com, are running romance fraud protection adverts throughout October on these platforms, to inform their users how to spot the signs of a romance fraud and how to protect themselves online.
Warning signs include fraudsters talking of major steps such as marriage without ever meeting face to face, claiming they work abroad and cannot video chat or meet in person, suddenly asking for money for an alleged time-critical emergency such as a loved one needing medical treatment and asking that the victim not discuss the relationship with friends o family.
Further information can be found at www.actionfraud.police.uk