Commissioner blasts criminals behind ‘heart-breaking’ romance scams as she urges victims to come forward

SURREY’S Police and Crime Commissioner has urged residents to be wary of romance fraudsters this Valentine’s Day.

Lisa Townsend blasted the criminals behind “heart-breaking” scams, and warned that Surrey victims lose millions each year to fraud.

And she called for anyone who fears they may be affected to come forward and speak to Surrey Police.

Lisa said: “Romance fraud is a deeply personal and intrusive crime. The impact it has on its victims is heart-breaking.

“Scammers con their victims into investing time and money under the mistaken belief that they have a genuine personal connection.

“In many cases, it’s difficult for victims to end their ‘relationship’ as they’re so emotionally invested.

“This type of crime can leave people feeling extremely ashamed and embarrassed.

“To anyone who is suffering, please know they’re not alone. Criminals are clever and manipulative, and it is never the fault of someone who has been scammed.

“Surrey Police will always take reports of romance fraud incredibly seriously. I’d urge anyone affected to come forward.”

In total, 172 reports of romance fraud were made to Surrey Police in 2022. Just under 57 per cent of victims were female.

More than half of all victims live alone, and just over one in five were contacted initially via WhatsApp. Around 19 per cent were contacted through a dating app first.

The majority of victims – 47.67 per cent – were aged between 30 and 59. Around 30 per cent were aged between 60 and 74.

‘Never a victim’s fault’

While many people – 27.9 per cent of all victims – didn’t report any losses, 72.1 per cent were defrauded out of sums of money. Of that number, 2.9 per cent lost between £100,000 and £240,000, and one person lost more than £250,000.

In 35.1 per cent of all cases, criminals asked their victims to hand over money via a bank transfer.

Surrey Police has offered the following advice on spotting the signs of a romance fraudster:

  • Be wary of giving out personal information on a website or chatroom
  • Fraudsters will make conversations personal to get information out of you, but won’t tell you much about themselves that you could check or verify
  • Romance fraudsters often claim to have high-ranking roles that keep them away from home for a long time. This could be a ploy to allay suspicions about not meeting in person
  • Fraudsters will usually attempt to steer you away from chatting on legitimate dating sites that can be monitored
  • They may tell stories to target your emotions – for example, that they have an ill relative or are stranded abroad. They may not ask directly for money, instead hoping that you will offer from the goodness of your heart
  • Sometimes, the fraudster will send you valuable items like laptops and mobile phones before asking you to send them on. This is likely a way for them to cover up any criminal activity
  • They may also ask you to accept money into your bank account and then transfer it elsewhere or via MoneyGram, Western Union, iTunes vouchers or other gift cards. These scenarios are very likely to be forms of money laundering, meaning you would be committing a crime

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To contact Surrey Police, call 101, use the Surrey Police website or get in touch on the Force’s social media pages. Always dial 999 in an emergency.

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