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Public reminded to stay safe online as reports of romance fraud rise 26% in a year

Bedfordshire Police is working with forces across the country and partners, including Match Group, to tackle romance fraud, with a combination of awareness raising and enforcement activity co-ordinated by the City of London Police (CoLP).

Between August 2019 and August 2020, police recorded a total of 68 reports of romance fraud in Bedfordshire, with victims’ losses totalling £1.4m.

The multi-agency campaign is running throughout October. It aims to raise awareness of romance fraud and provide clear and unambiguous protection advice to the public, following a 26% rise in reports to Action Fraud in the last year.

Sean O’Neil, Bedfordshire Police’s online security advisor, said:

“In Bedfordshire we have found victims being targeted on social media as well as dating websites and apps, by fraudsters who purport to be engineers or military service personnel working abroad.

“As a result we have seem victims losing their savings and pensions. Such fraudsters are persistent and will continue to pressurise their victims until all is lost, and in some cases until even loans have been taken out.

“In Bedfordshire, we have dealt with both men and women who have lost between £50,000 and £100,000. The money is quickly transferred abroad, leaving the victim emotionally and financially at a loss.”

Romance fraud is a “devastating crime”

Romance fraud, or dating fraud, occurs when you think you have met the perfect partner online but they are using a fake profile to form a relationship with you. They gain your trust over a number of weeks or months and have you believe you are in a loving and caring relationship.

However, the criminal’s end goal is only ever to get your money or personal information.

Over the past year losses reported by UK victims of romance fraud 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.

T/Detective Chief Superintendent Alex Rothwell, from 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.”

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.”

If you think you or someone you know has been defrauded, you can report it to Action Fraud online or by calling 0300 123 2040.