VICTIMS of romance fraud in Surrey have lost almost £2million to “callous” criminals in just a year, Police and Crime Commissioner Lisa Townsend has warned.
Speaking to mark Romance Fraud Awareness Week and World Romance Scam Prevention Day, the Commissioner said the crime often results in significant financial and emotional harm.
Between September 2022 and September of this year, 170 reports of romance fraud were made to Surrey Police, and 191 reports from Surrey residents were made to Action Fraud.
Most of the victims who contacted the Force – 23 per cent – were initially approached via dating apps, although 14 per cent of those targeted began speaking with fraudsters on Facebook, and 13 per cent were first contacted on WhatsApp.
More than half of victims – 53 per cent – were male.
While most money was lost via bank transfer – 42 per cent – fraudsters also encouraged their victims to part ways with their cash by purchasing gift cards, Amazon vouchers and Bitcoin.
As part of the Force’s Operation Signature, its campaign to identify and support vulnerable victims of fraud, the total amount lost over the year is estimated to be £1.95m.
The figures are down on the previous year, when 184 people made a report and an estimated £3.76m was lost.
However, Lisa said even one report is too many.
“Romance fraud is a heart-breaking crime that can often cause huge damage to its victims,” she said.
“The scammers behind this type of offending deceive their victims into investing money and – perhaps even more harmfully – their time and emotional energy under the mistaken belief that they have a genuine connection.
“This offending relies on building a deeply personal relationship with the victim in order to extort them of their money. The victim can find it difficult to end contact as their emotional ties are so strong.
“Often, those affected can be left feeling ashamed and embarrassed.
“I want to let anyone who is suffering now know that they are not alone. This is not their fault.
“The criminals behind this appalling fraud are clever and manipulative.
“Please speak to Action Fraud and Surrey Police if you think you may be the victim of a scam. Our officers will never judge you, and they take reports of romance fraud incredibly seriously.”
To report a crime to Action Fraud, visit actionfraud.police.uk or call 0300 123 2040.
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