IF ROMANCE has turned to finance, you could be the victim of a cruel scammer, Surrey’s Police and Crime Commissioner has warned.
Lisa Townsend has urged Surrey residents to be wary of romance fraud after reports of the offence rose by more than 10 per cent in a year.
Data recorded by Surrey Police’s Operation Signature – the Force’s campaign to identify and support vulnerable victims of fraud – reveals that in 2023, 183 people came forward to tell police they’d been targeted. The number of people who came forward in 2022 was 165.
Men made up 55 per cent of victims, and almost 60 per cent of those targeted were living alone. A majority of those to report an offence – 41 per cent – were aged between 30 and 59, while 30 per cent of reports were made by people aged between 60 and 74.
Counting the cost
In total, Surrey victims lost £2.73million.
Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime, recorded 207 reports of romance fraud in Surrey over the course of the year. Victims of fraud often report offences directly to Action Fraud, rather than their local police force.
Lisa has urged anyone who thinks they may have been targeted to come forward.
“This crime is truly distressing,” she said.
“It can be deeply personal to victims, who may feel the grief of both the crime itself and the loss of what they believed to be a genuine relationship.
“If a romantic connection has become focused on finances, it could be a sign of romance fraud.
“These criminals will try to stop their victims from discussing too much with their family and friends. They may say they live abroad, or have a high-profile job that keeps them busy.
“But ultimately, all will begin to find different ways to ask for money.
“It is devastating for victims to discover that the person they have built a relationship with is just a fantasy and – worse still – formed that attachment with the specific intent of doing them harm.
“Victims can feel embarrassed and ashamed to reveal what has happened to them.
“Please come forward”
“To those who believe they’ve been scammed, I say to you directly: please come forward. You will not be judged or shamed by Surrey Police.
“The criminals who carry out this type of offending are dangerous and emotionally manipulative, and they can be extremely clever.
“If you are suffering, please know that you are not alone. It is not your fault.
“Our officers take all reports of romance fraud incredibly seriously, and they are dedicated to tracking down those responsible.”
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
For more information, visit surrey.police.uk/romancefraud
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.